February 9, 2009

Northampton wins $1.7 million voting machine judgment

County doubts it'll collect from Advanced Voting Solutions
By Tom Coombe, Morning Call, January 31, 2009

Northampton County won a nearly $2 million judgment Friday against a company that sold it faulty voting machines in 2006. Just don't look for the county to collect the money any time soon. Following a brief hearing in county court, Judge Stephen Baratta said Advanced Voting Solutions of Frisco, Texas, must pay $1.9 million, plus court costs and interest, to the county. Now the county needs to figure out how to get money from a company that seems to have vanished.

''It's sort of a shallow victory,'' said county Administration Director John Conklin, who attended the hearing. ''It puts it to bed.''

The judge made the ruling after hearing arguments from Christopher Spadoni, representing the county. No one showed up to represent the company.

''Is the other side here?'' one of the judge's staff asked Spadoni before the hearing began.

''There is no other side,'' he told her.

The county sued AVS in December 2007 after the machines -- which contained a glitch that would not allow them to be programmed to handle certain candidates -- were decertified by the Pennsylvania Department of State. The machines have sat unused in a county storeroom since 2007.

The voting machines cost $2.1 million, $1.9 million of which was covered by a federal grant. After the state decertified the machines, the county switched back to its old lever system for the November 2007 election, then spent $1.7 million to buy new machines from Sequoia Voting Systems of Denver. But since filing the suit, the county hasn't been able to contact AVS. Its phones have been disconnected and e-mails are undeliverable.

''My information is that they're not around, if that's a good phrase,'' Spadoni said. It was good enough for Baratta, who said he would sign an order for AVS to pay up. Actually getting the money might be more complicated. Spadoni said the county will ''take all appropriate steps'' to collect the judgment. Conklin said the county may need to hire a collection agency.

''There are many judgments that are never collected,'' Spadoni said. ''The taxpayers got hosed.''

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