(Editor’s Note: Even as Broward County and Palm Beach County election officials grapple with a razor thin-tight election recount, shades of 2000 reflect on the registrar of voters walls. The road to Florida election recount chaos runs straight through Valley Center where the originally defective voting machines traced to the well-turned home of Dick and Loralee Stephens at 29751 Valley Center Rd.
The Stephens were hard-core Republican operatives who just happend to make bucketloads of cash from — ta-da — manufacturing voting machines and voting materials. The couple also spent much of the 2000 recount in Florida working with the Republican attorneys who were part of the theft of the election from Al Gore. I visited with the Stephens’ on several occasions to write stories detailing their efforts and lifestyle, the last time in 2015. Here’s what happened….)
One of the major players in one of America’s greatest political stories — some say scandal, all say drama — continues to operate even today although it’s one-part nostalgia, and legend, and two-parts business.
We’re talking Election Data Corporation. It’s website continues to hawk election items online, saying on its home page, “celebrating its 45th anniversary in the election supplies industry. Our voting booths are state of the art—engineered for durability, ease of use and cost effectiveness.”
Who Dat and WTF?
Consider the scandalous scenario. Palm Beach County, Florida. Presidential Election Day Nov. 7, 2000. Remember when the votes were counted, missing chad and all, as a nation breathlessly waited word as to who would be the next president?
Sure. Yet, how many realize that at the center of this grand political stage, the deus ex machine and power behind the punch cards, and confusion, were none other than long-time Valley Center residents Dick and Loralee Stephens.
The Stephens’ are still here and the President Bush, Iraq War and subsequent rise of Islamic extremism that changed the world as a result are there. In this case, the twain did meet.
Dick Stephens was continuing strong at age 92 then. A phone call to Election Data Corporation Monday, Nov. 12, 2018 found his voice on the answering machine saying, “Hi, this is Dick Stephens. Please leave your name and number and I might call you back.”
Along with Dick Stephens’ wife, Loralee Stephens, the Republican couple continue to sell, and ship, election supplies out of their well, well off Valley Center Road estate.
It’s almost entirely $170 hard curtain or soft curtain portable heavy duty plastic self-contained, lightweight voting booths these days. Sometimes, their Election Data Corporation sells $139 “Big Show” Vote Here Signs and $119 ballot/supply bags.
What Election Data Corp., also marketing as American Made Election Equipment, notably does not sell anymore is their claim to fame and political immortality.
Votomatic. It’s off the laundry list of modern Election Day products offered for sale direct from Valley Center.
Votomatic was the punch-card voting machine used in Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Broward, Fl. counties during the 2000 Presidential election. Due to the argument over hanging chad and what constituted a countable vote, the election wasn’t settled officially by the one-vote Supreme Court decision favoring the Bush party until two months following the Nov. 7 election.
The Stephens clan’s company manufactured Votomatic and its smaller buddy Pollstar in Oceanside and Corona. Then, as now, they operated sales and distribution out of their palatial Valley Center estate.
Die-hard Republicans, The Stephens were more than a passing part of the controversy. At the behest of GOP attorneys, Dick Stephens spent considerable time in South Florida aiding the Republicans in their court case and contention that the machines weren’t the problem, Florida Democratic Party election officials were the problem.
“I think, as I’ve always thought,” Stephens told me a few years ago, “that between the attorneys and the politicians and the newspapers, they destroyed the punch-card systems. They are blaming the system for the human factor. People never took care of the voting systems in Florida. They never cleaned them. …They were not in working order.”
The Stephens were attending to personal matters when I dropped by the other day. However, their administrative assistant said they were still doing well and continuing to sell election equipment.
Which is good to hear because they will live on in fairly anonymous infamy as long as there are American politics.
Punch cards are out
Stephens was the main man behind the entire election punch-card movement that dominated election ballot casting just prior to computerized systems taking charge. He was a former IBM regional sales manager who marketed the first punch-card machines called “Votomatics” for IBM in the early 1960s. He went into the business independently with his wife in the mid-1960s. They settled at Valley Center in 1984.
Their Election Data Corp. manufactured and sold 65,000 punch-card machines in 1999. A small Pollstar model retailed for $65 and larger Votomatic models retailed for $135 to $145.
The 2000 election, obviously enough, killed the Votomatic and punch-card business. Touch-screen systems are all the rage and for good reason considering the chad controversy. Lever machines sometimes are used and paper ballots. Punch cards are used in some jurisdictions but their salad days have ended.
It’s not all bad news, though for Votomatic. They continue to hold good value, financial as well as nostalgic. You can score a system on eBay for around $350 although a genuine used Palm Beach or Broward model might run a bit more.
The big, and obscure, takeaway in all this is the central role Valley Center played in the election of George W. Bush, which led, as we know, to a lot of, shall we say, tumultuous world changes regardless of one’s political inclination.
And now this, another controversial Florida election recount. The good news for Valley Center is the Stephens family isn’t even remotely involved this time, so you can blame somebody else.