Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Official's Travel Gift Questioned

By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times, 03/31/04

Today the L.A. Times reports that Mischelle Townsend, Riverside County Registrar of Voters, is being accused of illegally accepting $1,080 in travel and lodging from Sequoia Voting Systems, the county's electronic voting equipment supplier. Riverside county's gift limit is $340. Community activist Art Cassel filed the complaint against Townsend, which also alleges that Towsend failed to file conflict-of-interest discosure reports from 1998-2002, as well as her husband's income.


Townsend said her trip was for a Public Broadcasting Service series called "American Business Review" hosted by Morley Safer.

She said she may have improperly filled out the forms, but she believes that the show was for the public good.

"I filled it out rather hurriedly," she said. "If I put it on the wrong schedule, I'll look into that. I firmly believe it was worthwhile to provide information on our experience.... I didn't receive compensation for it. There was nothing personally gained from it. It was just my role to provide information about issues being debated about the voting system we use."

A Sequoia spokesman questioned whether the complaint was politically motivated.

"Mischelle has been a leader in electronic voting issues across the country, and there are a number of people politically opposed to electronic voting," said Alfie Charles, a spokesman for Sequoia.

"As someone who has worked with Mischelle for several years, I have always known her to be one of the most ethical officials in government, to the point of making sure when we go out to a meal together, the check is split so there's never any question of impropriety."

Riverside County was the first large jurisdiction in the nation to switch to electronic voting, and used it in the 2000 presidential election. Townsend has often been quoted about the system's accuracy.

The company's equipment is used in more than 35 states, with 48,000 of its electronic machines in use across the nation, according to Sequoia's website.

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