Rocky Mountain News
Workers at voting firm gave to GOP
$72,000 linked to company certifying touch screens
August 21, 2004
By Roger Fillion
A Colorado company under contract to ensure that the nation's touch-screen voting machines are accurate has been a substantial contributor to Republican candidates and groups.
The donations linked to CIBER Inc. are by no means against the law, but have raised some eyebrows with the approach of a hotly contested 2004 presidential election and the recent discovery of flaws in the ATM-like machines that will be used by millions of voters.
At Greenwood Village-based CIBER, employees and some spouses have donated more than $72,000 to GOP candidates and groups during the 2001-2002 and 2003-2004 election cycles, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group.
Democratic donations linked to the firm were $3,000 during that time.
Such donations from CIBER are "perfectly legitimate," said Rebecca Mercuri, a computer security expert with Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study.
"What should raise eyebrows is that our U.S. government and state governments allow this to happen," she said. "There's been nothing done to dissuade the perception that there's partisan control over the voting process."
CIBER is an information technology consulting company with a stock market value of $424 million and clients such as General Motors, Merrill Lynch and the state of Colorado. Spokeswoman Jenn Wing noted that the election technology-testing business accounts for less than 0.1 percent of CIBER's revenues, which totaled $692 million last year.
"Any political contributions made by CIBER or its employees are 100 percent removed from this business activity," Wing said.
Still, Douglas Jones, associate professor of computer science at the University of Iowa, said it's fair for people to raise questions about such contributions, given CIBER's role as a voting software tester.
But he doesn't think the donations should be seen as evidence that CIBER is engaged in partisan mischief - given that good citizens in a democracy are expected to be active participants in the political process.
"It's fine for it to raise eyebrows," he said of the CIBER donations. "I'd hate for it to generate conspiracy theories."
But Jones does worry about this: If there is a problem with the voting software and votes can't be 100 percent verified, then questions would arise about CIBER's partisan leanings.
"I'm not convinced that the system is bankrupt. I'm convinced we're at risk," Jones said
CIBER and Denver-based SysTest Labs are among the three companies nationwide authorized to test and certify the electronic touch-screen voting systems.
CIBER isn't the only company in the voting machine business at which people are actively involved in politics. Walden O'Dell, chief executive of Ohio-based Diebold Inc., the parent of electronic voting machine maker Diebold Election Systems, has helped raise funds for President Bush. O'Dell attracted attention last year after sending a letter to Ohio Republicans to raise money for the GOP, noting his commitment "to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year."
CIBER got into the voting software testing business through its 2001 acquisition of Metamor Government Solutions. The deal brought with it a small testing lab and the voting technology testing services.
At any one time, CIBER said about a dozen of its 7,500 employees are testing election software at the company's office in Huntsville, Ala.
"While we are proud to provide this service, it's not a large practice for CIBER," said spokeswoman Wing. "We don't set the standards for the software. We simply test the software to ensure they meet the standards set by the government."
fillionr@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-892-2467
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