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ES&S election monopoly blocked. Still at least 17 ways to steal or botch your next election.

By       Message Lani Massey Brown     Permalink
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If you've been following recent news reports concerning Elections Systems & Software, Inc.'s monopoly of America's voting process, you know ES&S will now be required to sell the Premier Systems/Diebold assets they acquired last year, pending approval by a federal judge. (See Brad Friedman's DOJ TO REQUIRE ES&S TO SELL OFF ASSETS FROM DIEBOLD MERGER CITING ANTI-TRUST CONCERNS and DOJ: Voting machine maker must sell some assets, Pete Yost, Associated Press.)

Have we dodged a bullet on that one? Maybe. The block to ES&S's nationwide election grab is one major victory for all Americans. It does restrict the propagation of a host of voting errors that have long afflicted ES&S voting systems.

However in no way does this ensure honest and accurate elections. It simply restricts ES&S's influence from 70% of Americans to 50+% of Americans. It does nothing to protect your vote from intentional or unintentional mishap. Particularly since the ES&S solution controls each election from beginning to end with little or no viable external checks and balances to keep the results honest: ES&S manufactures the machines, outlines the testing process, produces the test data, manages the voting process, tallies the votes, pronounces the winner, then produces the reports to declare the election valid.

This rollback of ES&S's monopoly does nothing to prevent:

  • My personal favorite, the lone computer tech who with a few programming tricks infiltrates every election computer manufactured by his or her company nationwide, including ballot scanners and touchscreens, as well as central tabulation computers. A caper such as this doesn't even stretch the imagination or talents. Consider the implications of holding the power to spot control elections across the country. Do it smartly and no one will know. Today, we do not have enough checks and balances to catch it.
  • Ballots from being accidentally or intentionally misprinted ever so slightly so that one candidate's votes aren't even "seen" by the ballot scanner, let alone counted.
  • Ballots from being printed with poor quality paper that jams in the ballot scanners.
  • Ballot scanners from misreading your ballots.
  • Election officials from distributing ink pens that scanners can't read. Yes, it happened.
  • Touchscreens from flipping your votes due to programming errors or defective hardware.
  • And of course failure to adequately test hardware and software at the State level during the voting system certification process, releasing an army of faulty machines. The State of Florida tested and certified their infamous ES&S touchscreens without even touching them. (A solid 89,000 votes went missing across the state in the 2006 Attorney General's race on ES&S voting machines.)
  • Failure to pre-test election setup at the local level. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted that Sarasota County, FL performed logic and accuracy tests on 32 of 1,499 touchscreens prior to their failed 2006 election. 98% of the machines went untested and ultimately 18,000 votes were lost.
  • Bad business behavior. ES&S has known about vote-flipping and drifting candidates for years. Yet they let the voting public flounder in the rancor and uncertainty of questionable elections.
  • Unethical business practices. Remember ES&S's 22,619 defective vote flipping, calibration drifting, vote losing machines? 2,261,000 Stolen Votes & Counting. ES&S: "A time bomb waiting to go off."
  • Election personnel from accidentally or intentionally setting up their ballot definitions incorrectly. Ballot definitions tell the computers what each ballot looks like, who the candidates are, and which click or bubble goes to each candidate.
  • Election tabulation software from miscounting the votes. Remember some of the more outrageous errors in which the vote tabulation started counting backwards?
  • Hardware failure as in the more recent meltdowns or calibration drift of touchscreens in 2008 and 2009.
  • Hiccups in the communications between the voting machines and the central computer that tabulates the results.
  • Intentional hacking of communications between the central tabulation computer and the ballot scanners or touchscreens.
  • Intentional or accidental programming of the PEB storage devices, the personalized electronic ballot definition that tells the touchscreen which ballot the voter will be voting.
  • Individual touchscreens from being tampered with or hacked.


While scaling back ES&S's march across the country does create room for competition and may inspire ES&S to improve the quality of its products, it does nothing to ensure our votes are counted first time, every time. In order to accomplish this, we must start running elections more like a business to include: (1) comprehensive audits of every election, (2) both manual and computerized processes that automatically red-flag invalid or statistically improbable results such as a 12% undervote, (3) updated election laws that recognize that computer errors do occur and define the appropriate corrective action to include sending the election back to the people.

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Author of A MARGIN OF ERROR: BALLOTS OF STRAW, featured in "Small Press Bookwatch" - Politics is a tough career, with more knives in (more...)
 

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