Supplier of voting machines purchased
By ROBERT FARLEY, Times Staff Writer
Sequoia Voting Systems, which recently sold touch-screen voting machines to Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, has been bought by a British firm.
The new owner, De La Rue, is best known as a security printer and papermaker with a role in the production of 150 currencies and other secure documents, such as traveler's checks.
Elections officials in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties say the sale should have no effect on the switch to the new voting system this fall.
"I can't imagine what that would affect," said Joan Brock, Pinellas' deputy supervisor of elections. "The whole management team is staying on. There are not going to be any personnel changes as far as elections are concerned."
"I don't have any reason to believe it will affect our installation," echoed Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Pam Iorio. "They have a contractual obligation to fulfill and they will."
Pinellas County paid $14-million to switch from its punch card system to Sequoia's touch-screen system. Hillsborough spent $12-million for its new machines. Sequoia's touch-screen machines made their local debut in March during Clearwater's municipal elections and met with favorable reviews.
In Hillsborough, the machines generally got favorable reviews when they were first used for a Plant City election in April. There was a glitch, however, with attempts to electronically transmit voting totals. Elections officials had to use a backup system to get the final tabulation.
De La Rue is paying $23-million to Jefferson Smurfit Group of Dublin, Ireland, for an 85 percent stake in Sequoia. There is a potential for additional payments of up to $12-million based on sales growth.
Kathryn Ferguson, vice president of governmental relations and public affairs for Sequoia, said Pinellas and Hillsborough counties would see no reduction in service as a result of the acquisition.
"De La Rue has said they will leave employee management intact and will allow Sequoia to continue to support their customers without any distraction," Ferguson said. "We will stay focused on the business at hand -- the fall elections."
Ferguson said she notified the elections supervisor offices in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties about the acquisition about 8 a.m. Wednesday.
In the long term, she said, the change in ownership means Sequoia will be better positioned to increase service to its clients.
"We will be that much more able to service new accounts as they come on board, because of the increased depth in the organization," she said. "We expect to see a more diversified, versatile range of products through the merging of our two research and development departments."
The launch of the new euro currency provided a big boost to De La Rue's revenues. The company also is involved in an array of other businesses related to security and cash handling. The company produces equipment used in bank ATMs and supplies passports to Mexico and Chile. It also owns a 20 percent stake in the British lottery operator, Camelot.
De La Rue said it sees Sequoia as an adjunct to its businesses, providing government identity solutions such as passports and driver's licenses. The company said it expects federal funding for election reforms will accelerate the U.S. movement to automated voting machines. Once in place, the machines will provide Sequoia with a continuing revenue stream through service, upgrades and consulting. The company said it also expects to market the equipment outside the United States, tapping into its existing relationships with governments around the world.
For the recently completed fiscal year, De La Rue reported pretax profits of $132-million on $952-million in revenues. In business since 1813, the company employs 7,000 people in 31 countries. Its headquarters are in Basingstoke, England. Recently the stock has traded for a little more than $7 a share on the London Stock Exchange.
-- Times staffers Helen Huntley, Bill Varian and Chris Ave contributed to this report.
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