Saturday, November 18, 2006

Denver Election Commission & Sequoia - Historical Perspective Part II - Just Food for Thought

Seems I've been trumped by this morning's Rocky Mountain News on the follow-up to my earlier post.

A piece, by Jeff Smith, in the News this morning provided the following:

There's no shortage of election conspiracy theories, and Internet blogs have been intrigued over the years with the relationship between Sequoia and Mike Frontera, Denver's former election commission executive director.

Frontera was hired by Sequoia in 1998, two years after Denver agreed to purchase $6.6 million of equipment from the company.

Denver election officials at the time defended Frontera, saying that only the three election commissioners are involved in the purchasing decisions.

Frontera added Friday that he was public information officer at the time of the purchase, and a year later became executive director overseeing the implementation of the Sequoia system.

He said he had applied for a job at U S West in 1998, using Sequoia as a reference, and that Sequoia then offered him a job when they realized he was looking.

Frontera made headlines again in 2004, when he and another Sequoia employee were spotted in the vote-counting room in Riverside County, Calif., during a spring election. Early results in a county supervisor race indicated the likelihood of a runoff, but by the end of the counting, one of the candidates had narrowly won a majority of the votes.

Frontera said the contract called for Sequoia employees to support the system, and that the two were helping upload voting results to the California Secretary of State's Office.

"We could have been helping out with a problem with our system," Frontera said. "It was all in public view. That's why people looking through the glass saw we were there."

He characterized the Internet blog reports as "lingering and annoying," adding that "it's a little scary that someone can Google you" and this is what they'll find.
Let's be more precise, shall we.

From the 2002 recodification of the Denver Charter (as in the prior codification):
§ 8.1.6 Appropriations to support Commission.
The Council shall appropriate sufficient funds to the Election Commission to enable the Commission to conduct elections and to obtain suitable offices, supplies, and employees to perform its duties. The Commission may, in its discretion, utilize the services of City and County departments in making such acquisition.
So, the News conclusion, or what they were told by someone that: "Denver election officials at the time defended Frontera, saying that only the three election commissioners are involved in the purchasing decisions," begs the question why procurement professionals, i.e. the city's Purchasing Division was not involved--were not called upon by the three Election Commissioners in 1996-'97--to conduct a bid or RFP (I still don't know what purchasing"best practices" process was utilized by the Election Commission to purchase the initial Sequoia equipment) which, by Charter, they certainly could have done. Why, was the Election Commission in 1996-'97 not interested in the transparent and unquestionably public process utilized to procure anything; from nuts and bolts to street sweepers and airport snow removal equipment to, yes, voting machines that the Purchasing Division could have provided to them?

History provides clues, not necessarily conclusions, as to what the dynamics were that brought Mike Frontera to the Denver Election Commission, first as the Public Information Officer and then to the position of Executive Director.

In my earlier post, I noted that Marcia Johnson (President of the election Commission in 1996), now City Councilwoman Marcia Johnson, was the moving force behind the search for new voting equipment for the City and County of Denver. At that time, Arlys Ward was the Executive Director of the Denver Election Commission, a position that serves at the pleasure of the two elected and one mayoral appointed Clerk and Recorder, who is the third member of the Election Commission.

It is important to note that on July 21, 1997, the Denver City Council passed an ordinance (No. 472, Series of 1997) that reads: "...the Council of the City and County of Denver hereby approves and authorizes the expenditure and payment from the 1997 appropriation account designated as 'Liability Claims,' the sum of Thirty-Five Thousand Dollars ($35,000), made payable to Arlys H. Ward and David C. Feola, Attorney at Law, as the full settlement of Ms. Ward's employment dispute."

The nature of the "employment dispute," is, of course, not known and, unless Ms. Ward is forthcoming, may never be known.

Enter Mike Frontera. He replaced Arlys Ward as Executive Director of the Election Commission either during or sometime shortly after the "employment dispute between the Commission and Arlys Ward was commenced or settled.

Historical perspective does not necessarily provide conclusions, just facts upon which conclusions can be made or rejected.

Finally, a few historical notes. You can make your own conclusions.

Sequoia project manager Mike Frontera said his company's equipment is being used in some 40 counties nationwide and only Hillsborough has experienced this glitch.

Frontera and two helpers replicated the problem Thursday, watching a laptop computer freeze when a cartridge was prematurely pulled from a reader. But he still could not rule out transmission line failure or hardware problems.

So on Thursday, Frontera sent a Dell laptop computer and an Antec data reader to Oakland, Calif., where company technicians were to give the hardware the once-over.

"I think the solution will be one of those things where you slap yourself in the head and say, 'Ah, that was easy,' " Frontera said. "Or maybe it was something like the full moon." St. Petersburgh Times, April 6, 2002


Section 18575 of the California Elections Code makes it illegal for anyone other than an election officer to handle, count, or canvass ballots:

Every person is guilty of a felony, and on conviction shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three or four years, who at any election:
(a) without first having been appointed and qualified, acts as an election officer,
(b) not being an election officer, performs or discharges any of the duties of an election officer in regard to the handling, counting, or canvassing of any ballots

This section provides that only authorized people, such as an election officer, may count votes. To the extent that an unauthorized person handles or counts votes, he or she is in violation of section 18575.

... Who are the men from Sequoia who accessed the central tabulator on election night, during the middle of the vote count?

Michael Frontera is a former Denver Elections Commission executive who took a position with Sequoia shortly after placing $6.6 million in Sequoia orders with Denver. Eddie Campbell is a Sequoia employee who lives in Denver.

What were they doing to the tabulator when Frontera was typing information into it?

I called Mischelle Townsend to ask this question, and she did call back, but I was in my car and could not take notes. I arranged to call her back shortly after 1:30 p.m., when she said she would be getting out of a meeting. I made four follow up calls, but she did not answer, and I called her office three times, but was told she is not there. I will keep this question open so that we can get an answer, and will update this site - ( with Townsend's response.

I called Alfie Charles of Sequoia, three times, but he did not take my call. He e-mailed me to say that I must submit my questions in writing in order to get a response, a poor option for any journalist, as this does not allow you to ask any follow up questions or ask for clarification. I will keep this question open for Mr. Charles as well, and will update this site with his response.

Additional questions for Townsend and Charles:

1.When, how, and by whom were Frontera and Campbell "appointed and qualified" as elections officers? My fax number is 425-228-3965, and I will await the faxed documentation on this.

According to the California Elections Code section 18564,

"Any person is guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment in a state prison for two, three, or four years who, before or during an election:...
(b) interferes or attempts to interfere with...ballot tally software program source codes..."

Thus, it certainly looks bad, and deserves a full written explanation, when a person who does not work for the County and is not even a resident of the state of California is typing instructions into the central tabulation program during the middle of a count on election night.

But could "typing into the computer" interfere with the software program source codes?" Scoop, Independent News, April 2, 2004

More here

I think I've had enough of this mess. Still, it is estimated that, at least, 18,000 citizens were denied their right to vote in Denver on November 7, 2006. That ain't right, folks.

P.S. No, Mike, the moon was not Full on November 7th of this year. That occurred on November 5th. And, Jeff Smith of the Rocky: no consipiracy theories here, my man. Just facts.


Doogman said...

Keep diggin George. We've got two years to get this nightmare sorted out - maybe the answer is to go back to printed ballots. We need VERIFIABLE voting!!

Thanks for your outstanding post!

Anonymous said...

Well, any thoughtful observer knows what went on back when the Seqouia decision was made. The notion that the decision was driven by only the Election Commision and not the staff is absurd on its face. They didn't consult or use the City's purchasing folks because not going with Seqouia was not an option that Frontera wanted to consider. But such is the way of business. On the positive side, however, notwithstanding this Seqouia matter, the City, in my opinion, is remarkably tranparent in most of it's decisions, purchasing or otherwise, at least compared with many, many other cities and counties and states.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Kent. Yes, from my experience, you're correct with regard to least in the particular area I'm familiar with.