Here's a sign that the NYTimes is waking up to the grave danger
of computerized voting, although they have a ways to go.
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The problem isn't any lack of "robust competition." How
could it be? First of all, there really never was much "competition" in the
e-vote/e-vote-counting business--and there really wasn't any when, essentially, Diebold and ES&S divided
up the territory, since those two juggernauts were Siamese twins. They were originally one
company, founded by the Christinist brothers Bob and Todd Urosevich (who still wield
corporate power today).
Moreover--and more important--elections are a vital
civic exercise, not an economic matter that requires a market-based solution. We rule ourselves
(or ought to) as voters, not consumers. The problem with ES&S, therefore, is surely not
that that colossus hogs "the market," although it is indeed grotesque, and dangerous, to
have one private company run our national elections.
The problem, rather, is that America's elections have been
privatized, whether it's one company or four, or six, that runs the show--and, indeed,
"a show" is all it is, because that company, and all its peers, deploy a wholly non-transparent,
easily manipulated electronic system, which makes it quite impossible for anyone to
tell if the results of our elections are legitimate or not. (Those companies, moreover,
are not honest brokers but intensely partisan concerns, owned and managed by right-wing
What we need, then, isn't "robust competition" in the
field of electronic voting and vote-counting. What we need is to BAN SUCH VOTING NATIONWIDE,
IN FAVOR OF A NATIONAL RETURN TO PAPER BALLOTS, WHICH MUST BE HAND-COUNTED. We also need to BAN PRIVATE COMPANIES FROM ALL PARTICIPATION IN OUR VOTING PROCESS.
I hope I've made myself clear. The time, in short, has come to
repeal the disastrous (and frighteningly misnamed) Help America Vote ACT (HAVA), and
The Voters Will Pay
It was bad news for the voting public when Election Systems and
Software, the nation's largest voting machine company, announced
last fall that it was acquiring the elections division of Diebold, the
nation's second-largest voting machine company.
The combination could mean that nearly 70 percent of the
nation's precincts would use machines made by a single company. If the
deal is allowed to go through, it would make it harder for
jurisdictions to bargain effectively on price and quality. The Justice
Department should reject it as a violation of antitrust rules that is
clearly not in the public's interest.
The 2000 presidential election debacle in Florida, with its
hanging chads and uncounted votes, highlighted the deep flaws in
voting machine technology - and in the industry. That was in no
small part because of a lack of robust competition. If the Diebold
acquisition goes forward, competition would all but disappear.
Numerous studies have shown that electronic voting machines are
particularly vulnerable to software glitches, intentional vote theft
or sabotage. Having such a large percentage of the nation's votes
counted on machines made and serviced by a single company increases
the vulnerability of the system.
A group of election administrators, fair-voting advocates and
computer experts wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. recently to
warn of the dangers if the deal closes. They warned that Election
Systems and Software already has a bad record on open competition,
including contract clauses that prevent jurisdictions that buy their
machines from hiring other vendors to service them.
If the deal nevertheless goes forward, the department should
insist on strong protections to minimize the potential for damage. The
combined company should be prohibited from using contracts that
interfere with competition and required to use hardware and software
that are interoperable with products from other companies.
The Justice Department also should require the company to
continue efforts Diebold was reportedly taking to make its systems
more transparent by, among other things, making some or all of its
software code public.
The Justice Department has considerable antitrust authority. It
needs to use it to ensure that an industry the public rightly
mistrusts does not get any worse.