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Alderman: Election Day troubles could be part of 'international conspiracy'

Friday, April 07, 2006

One of Chicago's most powerful aldermen has a conspiracy theory for the voting problems experienced during the March primary. Alderman Ed Burke wants to know why the Chicago board of elections would pick a Venezuelan company to supply the city's new voting machines, a company Burke believes has the ability to rig an election for political gain.

Both the voting machine company and the board of elections are calling alderman Burke's suggestion of a conspiracy absurd. This happened during a city council hearing Friday on problems during last month's primary.

Alderman Ed Burke, whose wife just got appointed to the Illinois Supreme Court, took back the spotlight Friday at a wild city council hearing where Burke said the vote counting problems on primary election night may be part of an international conspiracy led by the president of Venezuela, who is engaged in a war of words with the Bush administration.

"We've stumbled across what could be the international conspiracy to subvert the electoral process in the United States of America ," said Ald. Ed Burke, finance committee chairman.

Alderman Burke says at least 15 Venezuelans, who may not have been in the country legally, worked side-by-side with Chicago election officials on primary night March 21, which turned out to be a vote-counting nightmare.

Burke says the fiasco may have been politically motivated, because the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, is considered an enemy of the United States and may be connected to a Venezuelan company that owns a US firm that provided Chicago and Cook County with the new voting machines that contributed to the election night problems.

"I don't know how anybody could hire a company that's ownership is hidden, and traces its roots to Venezuela, where they've been involved with the dictator of Venezuela who Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld says is an enemy of the United States," said Burke.

The Venezualans were providing technical assistance, not tabulating votes, and the conspiracy theory is over the top, according to election officials and the company that provided the new equipment.

"The ability of Chavez to be manipulating the vote in Chicago is impossible" said Jack Blaine, Sequoia Voting Systems president.

"We have enough redundant security measures in place to protect the accuracy of the vote," said Langdon Neal, Chicago election board.

The suggestion that loose screws on new machines contributed to election night problems is a perfect metaphor to describe a city council hearing featuring more questions than answers.

"I think that you belong to the secret brotherhood of I don't know, and I found your testimony so far to be not credible," said Ald. Leslie Hairston, 5th Ward.

Despite all of the criticism, the president of the voting machine company said a post-election inspection of 1,000 machines uncovered only three mechanical problems, so most of the tabulating delays were human error. But he is promising a new set of more user-friendly machines by November, and city election officials are promising a better job of training election judges and checking out machines in advance.

It is, however, probably too late to change companies, and the machine makers, Sequoia and its Venezuelan parent, Smartmatic, will eventually get paid the last $16 million from its contract with the city and the county.

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