http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/14034640.htm

Mar. 7, 2006

IN MY OPINION

 

Election official hammered for telling the truth

 

BY FRED GRIMM

fgrimm@MiamiHerald.com

 

Ion Sancho may be a hero in California, where grateful election officials have verified the ''serious security vulnerabilities'' in Diebold voting machines that the Leon County election supervisor uncovered last year.

 

Sancho is regarded a little differently in Florida.

 

Florida's secretary of state's office disparaged Sancho's finding, demonstrating considerably more interest in propping up vendors than protecting elections.

 

California, alarmed by Sancho's report, dispatched its independent, expert-laden Voting Systems Technology Assessment Advisory Board to conduct its own investigation.

 

Florida, meanwhile, threatened to sue Sancho.

 

VOTING MACHINE VENDORS

 

When two of the only three voting machine vendors certified to do business in Florida (other potential competitors are shut out) refused to sell new machines to the troublemaking maverick from Leon County, the state snatched $564,421 in grant money away from Leon County for failing to meet a deadline for -- you guessed it -- obtaining new machines.

 

He may be a hero in California, but messing with monied interests makes him a pariah in Florida.

 

California's voting systems assessment board issued a report last month that cited -- in the very first paragraph -- Leon County's security tests. Sancho had dispatched renowned computer expert Harri Hursti of Finland to attempt to hack Leon County's Diebold voting system. He did. Hursti demonstrated that someone inside the supervisor's office could both alter the outcome of an election and erase any trace of his meddling.

 

`CONCERNS WERE VALID'

 

California's follow-up investigation ''absolutely vindicated Sancho's concerns,'' said David Wagner, a University of California computer scientist and a member of the voting machine assessment board. ``Our report found all of Ion Sancho's concerns were valid and, in fact, worse than anyone realized.''

 

Last month, California quickly issued a series of fixes for the holes in the system. On Friday afternoon, the Florida secretary of state's office sent out the same California security directives to county election supervisors. Of course, there was no mention that the California findings had been available all along right there in Ion Sancho's Tallahassee office.

 

''This is incredible how he has been treated,'' Wagner said Monday. ``He's the leader everyone else in the nation has been watching. Because of his investigation, we've been able to strengthen security and protect the voters of California and Florida.''

 

Wagner noted, instead of getting credit, Sancho has been savaged. One vendor canceled his orders at the last minute, one refused to sell him machines, the third won't return his phone calls.

 

Salesmen are suddenly too busy to sell him machines. The state, rather than react to possible collusion, promptly canceled his grant and threatened to sue him for failing to fulfill his official duties. A couple of Leon County commissioners have joined the pummeling.

 

`ROUGH FEW WEEKS'

 

''It's been a rough few weeks,'' Sancho said Monday, nearly in tears.

 

Wagner suggested that Sancho's situation ''exposed a weakness that no one has realized up to now.'' Florida apparently doesn't mind if its only licensed vendors refuse to sell their products to certain supervisors.

 

''Can a vendor punish someone who exposes defects in their product?'' Wagner asked.

 

``If they can drive out Ion Sancho, this is going to have a chilling effect on election supervisors across the country.''

 

He e-mailed Sancho: ``I just wanted to drop you a note to let you know that some of us are grateful for your dedication to election security, even if the state of Florida can't bring themselves to thank you.

 

''In my mind,'' Wagner added, ``You are a real hero.''

 

In Florida, real heroes just catch hell.

 

2006 MiamiHerald.com and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

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