I'm happy to have with me Bev
Harris, intrepid investigative journalist and founder of the non-profit elections watchdog group, BlackBoxVoting.org. Welcome to OpEdNews, Bev.
Interesting developments in the election world these days. Would you care to
walk us through the latest regarding the ES&S acquisition of its competitor
Diebold (now known as Premier)?
Oh yes. Big things are happening here. The US. Dept. of Justice (USDOJ) has just announced that it has opened an antitrust investigation into the ES&S/Diebold deal.
The USDOJ needed specific information in order to ascertain that the acquisition would "overconcentrate" the elections industry. They use a formula called the Herfindahl Index for this. Unfortunately, the only thing the USDOJ can use is precise figures based on official sources, and there are over 5,000 jurisdictions. Getting the data is no picnic, and you can't just use something published on someone's Web site. So Black Box Voting compiled data from our many Freedom of Information documents and produced a sourced, detailed chart proving overconcentration of the industry.
We buttressed our complaint by documenting specific instances of past anticompetitive behavior, and provided a legal analysis, which showed that anti-trust actions can be taken years after the acquisition.
The Dept. of Justice wrote us last month to let us know they intended to take action if their preliminary evaluation supported our contention that the acquisition creates an unhealthy condition. And it didn't take long! Less than eight weeks after our complaint, the USDOJ launched a formal antitrust probe, and 14 individual states are now pursuing their own investigations.
Several years ago, we began collecting government source documents and voting machine make and models per jurisdiction. This has been especially challenging since so many places have been changing equipment over the past few years. And the hardest part was identifying what each of the municipality-run jurisdictions run. Wisconsin alone has about 1700 different municipality jurisdictions.
Once we had the data, we had to figure out how to accurately weight it. Obviously the 1700 Wisconsin jurisdictions couldn't be put up one to one against, for example, the 64 county jurisdictions in Colorado. And we had to look at the method most likely to provide the type of data needed by the Dept. of Justice. Should we determine by percent of votes counted by each machine? By total number of units? Or by jurisdiction? We decided that the best way to organize the data for antitrust purposes would be by purchasing unit (jurisdiction), with a weighted sample to equalize municipalities with counties.
More information than people want to know I'm sure, but this is the kind of detail that was needed to move from general grousing about monopoly to precise calculation of anticompetitive impact in violation of the Clayton Act.
More was needed; we created color-coded "before and after" maps to provide visual images for the impact of the acquisition, and studied antitrust laws to learn more about what kind of information to provide.
Perhaps most important, we received advice from volunteer consultants, including election officials and former federal investigators. This helped us know what information to include in the complaint, and also helped us determine which examples from our news archives, which have accumulated thousands of stories
over the years, would work best for this purpose.
Wow. What an undertaking. Can you show us the maps of Before and After acquisition and explain to us just what we're seeing and what it means?
US Map Pre-Merger
US Map Post-Merger