By Barbara With, Marianne M. Moonhouse and John Washburn
Command Central is one of Wisconsin’s leading vendors of voting machines and election supplies. They are distributors for Dominion Voting Systems, a privately-owned electronic voting equipment company. Founded in Canada in 2002, Dominion is now based in Denver, CO, since their acquisitions of Premier Election Solutions, from Election Systems & Software (ES&S), and Sequoia Voting Systems.
Command Central deals directly with Wisconsin county and municipal clerks and is closely involved in their selection of voting machines, ballots, and other election supplies. Command Central does all the maintenance on the voting machines and provides tech support throughout the year, with a special “hot line” should clerks need help with glitches, etc., on election day.
In June 2011, the Wisconsin County Clerks Association held their annual summer conference in Ladysmith. Seventy-five county clerks from across the state came together to, among other things, “assist the legislators in developing sound legislation that affects county clerks and county government by providing accurate and useful information.” WCCA Legislation Committee chair at the time was Kathy Nickolaus.
Last summer’s meeting featured a break-out session entitled, “Mastering Tough Questions from News Media, Directors and Other Audiences”:
Whether it’s a news event, a hostile public hearing or a difficult internal meeting, the knowledge and skills gained in this class will increase our ability and confidence to succeed as mastering the tough questions everyone fears. By understanding the anatomy of ‘tough questions’ you will gain power of them. Learn response techniques and model answers that you can apply to any situation.
Al Guyant, president of Guyant and Associates, a training firm specializing in human communications, conducted the session. Guyant has prepared clients for 60 Minutes, Dateline and other “tough question” formats. When asked why county clerks would need this kind of training, he said, “The obvious public scrutiny of elections has increased so much that the clerks need to be able to convey the essence of their statement in the 10 to 15 seconds because of the short attention span of America, and relative space and time in the media.”
Another break-out session was scheduled specifically to spend time with the election vendors: Command Central and Dominion. Command Central was represented by Vice President Aaron Storbeck. On display at his booth was an Edge DRE touch screen machine much like the kind that have been documented flipping votes on Election Day.
Many of our clerks have undoubtedly met Aaron Storbeck, who travels to conventions and sets up wares to show county clerks how easy these machines are to use. In a follow-up email interview Storbeck denied his machines could be corrupted:
BW: So as far as you know, you don’t know how anyone could create corruptible programming that would not show up until Election Day.
CC: Hasn’t happened and we have 46 counties as customers in Wisconsin and 3,000 pieces of equipment out there.
I asked if these machines force a straight party ticket. But unless a voter knows how to back out and re-enter the choices to force a split ticket as he explains below, how would they know?:
BW: Voters have to vote straight ticket. There is a way to overwrite having to vote straight ticket by selecting the first choice, then unselecting it, and then selecting the second choice. Even if voting Republican and the second choice is a Democrat, it will register a split ticket.
CC: Yes It check-marks the office in a straight party, however you can go in and deselect names if you wanted to change your vote(s).
But perhaps the most disturbing answer Storbeck gave was to the question of who programs the computer pacs that tabulate the votes.
CC: My step-mother is Sue Wahl and she does the programming.
Who is Command Central? Listed only as a P.O. box number on Storbeck’s card, on further investigation, Command Central’ s office can be found in Marketplace strip mall, 110 2nd Street South, Suite 300, in Waite Park, a suburb of St. Cloud, MN. They also are listed as doing business from suite 219 at this address. Coincidentally, Michelle Bachman’s campaign office is also located at this address, right down the hall in Suite 232.
And who is Sue Wahl-Storbeck and should we trust her with our voting machines?
In 2007, Sue Wahl-Storbeck filed suit against a former employer and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development for disqualifying her from receiving unemployment benefits because she had been fired. The company, ACS Enterprise Solutions, claims that in 2005, Wahl-Storbeck refused to take the annual ethics exam that was required for employment with ACS. She claimed the organization was so dysfunctional that it was “hypocritical” to take the test. She lost both her original case and the appeal. “Because each refusal to take the ethics exam was intentional conduct that displayed clearly Storbeck’s refusal to comply with ACS’s reasonable request, her actions do not constitute a single incident under Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 6(a). Accordingly, the ULJ properly determined that Storbeck is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits because she was discharged for employment misconduct.”
This is the woman who has control over the programming of 3,000 voting machines in 46 districts in the State of Wisconsin.
Regardless of her achievements, whenever anyone is given the sole responsibility to program our voting machines, we are placing the vitality of our entire democracy in their hands.
Forty-six Wisconsin counties and 3,000 voting machines are being controlled by a two-person company operating out of a strip mall in Minnesota.
By law, voting machines must be publicly tested prior to every election. A Programmable Read Only Memory (P.R.O.M.) pack or cartridge is used to reprogram the machines with the details of the current election. Clerks receive two PROM packs from Command Central: A PRE-LAT, which is used a week or so before the election for the public test, and an “Official” pack used on Election Day. Whoever programs the PROM packs has the ability to inject all the machines with a virus that will flip votes only on Election Day. With two different PROM packs in play, it’s easy to see how public tests could be flawless and the machines could still flip votes Election Day.
In his report of his experience with the November 2010 gubernatorial election for Scott Walker, John Washburn, an election integrity investigator and professional software tester for almost 20 years, states, “I have been to dozens of voting system test sessions and have never seen any of this faux ‘testing’ actually test the voting system software correctly. This is the professional opinion of a software tester testing software since 1994.”
Washburn also filed an open records request with Command Central to examine the PROM packs from the July 15, 2011 recall election in wards 1-4 in Fox Point. When they responded that it would cost him $450, Washburn filed a complaint alleging that Command Central LLC wasn’t cooperative in responding to the open records request.
Command Central Makes Its Move—A Shady Deal With WI County Clerks
Last September, Election Integrity investigators discovered that unbeknownst to average citizens of Wisconsin, Command Central sent those 46 districts an offer: trade out your old Optech Insight Scanner for two DRE Touch Screen models, at no charge. The Optech machine is the one that paper ballots are fed through to read and register the votes.
While these machines are also susceptible to hacking (see Rep. Pridemore explain how to game the machine) in the case of a recount, it is possible to physically monitor the paper ballots as they are fed through the machine to see if they match the machine totals.
With DRE Touch Screens, however, one’s vote could be flipped and one would never know because there is no receipt or paper trail voters receive to confirm their vote was counted as voted. All that is left is a paper tape that shows votes and vote totals. If the machine is hacked, those totals have no other verifiable trail to confirm the results.
And yet according to John Washburn, this swap-out two-for-one offer violates the statutes issued by the GAB for State approved system as described on the Government Accountability Board’s website that requires the inclusion of an Optech Insight Scanner.
On January 13, 2012, Washburn emailed the GAB about this situation. When he did not receive an answer, he submitted an Open Records request to the GAB, with no reply. On May 2, he submitted another, again to no response. On May 4, he turned the case over to Dane County Attorney, and on May 14 he kicked it up to the Department of Justice.
Why is Command Central offering free machines? Why does the GAB not respond? Will the Department of Justice respond in time to help protect our June 5th recall elections?
Are these the “tough questions” clerks were being trained to answer?
Protect Your Recall Vote
Election reform will not take place overnight. But we can begin with educating our friends, family and clerks of our rights, and the dangers of the machines, and demanding change in our statutes that will allow for hand count paper ballots.
To protect our recall elections, here are some steps you can take to make sure your vote is counted:
• Get Out The Vote. Massive turnout at the polls is our best protection against election fraud. The more people actually vote, the less votes they can steal from us.
• Do not vote on touch screen machines. Call your clerk before Election Day and insist on voting on paper. Refuse to vote on the DRE touch screens and offer to send your clerk information on the dangers of these machines. See a list of all Wisconsin clerks here.
• If for any reason your ballot is rejected from the Optech, as was John Washburn’s, or you witness a machine malfunction or flip a vote (no matter how many times you touch your candidate’s name, the other comes up instead) call Wisconsin Election Protection, 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683) on Election Day. Their bank of attorneys will be facebooking, tweeting (@EPWisco) and answering the hotline. Let all your friends know and remind them to share it widely so voters state-wide can know this important resource.
• Insist your clerk file a report and enter your incident on the Inspector’s Report, GAB Form 104. If your incident is not filed here, it did not happen. http://gab.wi.gov/forms/gab-104
• Write-in your vote on Election Day, even if your candidate listed on the ballot. Include their party affiliation. When you feed the ballot into the Optech scanner, it will be separated into the write-in bin, and be hand counted after the polls close.
If they steal our vote, they steal our voice and they steal our power. Stand up and help change election systems in Wisconsin. This is not an issue of “left” vs “right.” It’s “right” vs “wrong.”