Many jurisdictions in the US outsource the printing of notifications and ballots so they don’t need a commercial printer or inserter. However, to process inbound ballots faster and maintain custody, jurisdictions purchase their own mail sorting machines.
All completed mail-in ballot envelopes are brought directly to their election office and processed in-house using these sorters and their software. Is some of this software coded in Russia, even today?
The powerful sorting machine software has info on every ballot and eligible voter. Sorters can check envelope thickness, weight, sort envelopes by geography (precincts) or by bad signatures. They read bar codes, take digital images, track the ballots’ USPS journey, access registration databases, and more. The software contains extensive voter profiles including name, address, voter ID, precinct, your “on file” signature, and so on. Their updates to and from registration systems are often done with just a USB stick.
One optional feature in sorter software is called Automated Signature Verification (ASV). It compares ballot signature images to one or more reference signatures on file (video overview). ASV can approve signatures that match, or just provide a score. Election officials can adjust settings to a higher, or lower level of scrutiny for a match. Processing signatures through ASV allows election workers to focus on just the ones rejected, or scored poorly. Using backlogged staff as an excuse, administrators often lower scrutiny settings to the detriment of accuracy. These verification processes vary by county, just not today’s topic.
Election vendors often integrate niche software products together and present this as their own comprehensive package. One product embedded in mail sorter software comes from Parascript. This company has nearly 30 years of experience developing handwriting analysis software. Their SignatureXpert product is the underlying engine in the ASV options provided to elections (brochure). Using sophisticated techniques they can determine if a signature is forged, and analyze from 0-100 points of the signature. Their updated version SignatureXpert.AI addresses the poor quality of DMV signature images and more. So who are they?
Parascript is in the industry called “Intelligent Document Processing” (IDP). They automate the extraction of data from images of handwriting. Industry analysts consider them a “major contender” with products used in many sectors. The banking industry uses it to process loan paperwork, mortgage docs, and verify check signatures. Mail carriers, including USPS, use it at great speeds to read the handwriting on parcels and envelopes. Parascript has used Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to fine-tune the software while processing hundreds of billions of images over the years.
Parascript has roughly 55 employees and was founded in 1996 by Russian Stepan Pachikov and longtime Board Chairman Aron Katz. What’s very unusual is the amount of Russians working in strategic and leadership roles. Always headquartered in Longmont, CO (Denver), CEO Alexander Filatov has been there since the beginning. He was schooled at Moscow State Tech University. Igor KiI has always been in charge of R&D. Ati Azemoun runs the Business Development department. Kazimierz Jaszczak directs Product Planning, Ilia Lossev a Chief Scientist, and so on. Awhile back Parascript did have one other office location…..in Moscow.
All of the Parascript patents we reviewed only have Russians listed as the inventors. The company’s LinkedIn “People Profile” tab shows 6 employees working remotely in the Moscow area (larger image). This includes longtime software developers Maria Smirnova (11 yrs.) and Mikhail Martemyanov (15 yrs.). Several employees studied at universities in Russia like Moscow Engineering Physics Institute, Gubkin State Univ. of Oil and Gas, Lomonosov Moscow State, etc. Some employees attended Yale, Univ. of Colorado, and New Mexico State.
The use of ASV in elections has been around for roughly 20 years. The “Vote By Mail” hardware and software, including signature verification, have no regulations. It’s not subject to any audits, inspections, or special election-related scrutiny by federal or state regulators. In fact, the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) only provides a basic guide for anyone using a signature verification process. Less than a handful of companies provide these mail sorting systems. They all seem to use Parascript for ASV and listed as Software Partners on their website. Who are these vendors?
Bluecrest is a company spun out from Pitney Bowes. Their election mail solution includes the “Vantage” mail sorter (brochure). It can process 50,000 ballot envelopes per hour (called packets). It’s used in Orange County, Riverside County, Detroit, and other large jurisdictions. Their Relia-Vote software (video, brochure) includes an optional feature for Automated Signature Verification (ASV), video here. The underlying engine is SignatureXpert.AI. BlueCrest is listed as a Software Partner and is owned by ESG driven Platinum Equity, who has a portfolio of 50 companies.
Phoenix-based Runbeck Election Services provides a sorting solution called Agilis. They typically target smaller counties like Luzerne ($300k) and Lancaster ($315k). It takes 3 of their low-efficiency Agilis sorters to process ballot envelopes in the same time as one BlueCrest Vantage. Maricopa County (Phoenix) outsources almost everything to Runbeck, all printing, mailing, ballot duplication software, even the processing of returned mail-in ballots. Runbeck embarrassingly had to buy a Vantage in 2020 to keep up with demands.
Runbeck’s ASV option was called VersusPro. It was scrubbed from their website around February. It’s been rebranded as SigVer as explained in their new propaganda video. It compares signatures using a number of points to compare. One county then wanted them sorted into low or high confidence queue for human evaluation. Regardless of branding, the underlying engine is Parascript’s SignatureXpert.AI. Runbeck is also listed as a Software Partner. Did they scrub VersusPro because of the Kari Lake lawsuit. Maricopa election staff approved horrible signature matches.
In 2017 Bell & Howell spun out their mail sorting division into a new company called Fluence Automation. In 2018 Fluence partnered with Parascript. Their Criterion line of sorting machines and software includes an ASV option. They too are listed as a Software Partner. Although BlueCrest acquired Fluence in 2021, they still operate as a separate company. The ES&S Mail Ballot Verifier is a small inbound mail sorter. It’s ASV feature is called “auto signature recognition”. Their staff we talked with knew little about this machine. They probably don’t sell many.
In 2020, the number of States requiring signature verification of any kind actually dropped, now only 31. Jurisdictions that see large volumes of ballot envelopes in a short time are almost forced to use ASV to expedite vote counting. It’s used on a large scale in California (county list), Oregon, Utah, Washington, Colorado, and Arizona. Parascript has roughly 960 customers across their entire product line. They won’t disclose how many using their ASV “Vote By Mail” signature solution. Most election officials using ASV probably don’t know they’re using a Parascript product.
Parascript tested both their SignatureXpert products in a Colorado County recently. The results showed SignatureXpert.AI accurately verified 67% of the signatures, a 14% improvement over their previous version. The test had 100,000 signatures and manual inspection by judges. But what caused 33% to be rejected? Are people half-heartedly signing because it’s a ballot, not a paycheck? Are old or poor reference signatures on file? Were ghost voter registrations partly at fault? Large banks no longer validate check signatures unless over a certain amount, so hard to compare the error rates.
There is zero transparency around election mail sorter software. No video’s or demo’s are public, not even screens shots. Any public information is purposely cartoon animation. If integrated with USPS, the sorting software knows when bulk ballots went out for delivery, and to which voters.
In the 30 days leading up to election day, the sorters are the first to know who voted, who hasn’t returned their ballot, who didn’t get one, and more. These sorting machines are often in separate rooms, or far away from the tabulators and those secure environments. Dual political party witnesses are typically not allowed access.