Wednesday, June 22, 2005
The Sale of Electoral Politics
IN THESE TIMES, December 2003
Title: “Voting Machines Gone Wild”
Author: Mark Lewellen-Biddle
INDEPENDENT/UK, October 13, 2003
Title: “All The President's Votes?”
Author: Andrew Gumbel
DEMOCRACY NOW!, September 4, 2003
Title: “Will Bush Backers Manipulate Votes to Deliver GW Another Election?”
Reporter: Amy Goodman and the staff of Democracy Now!
Evaluator: Andy Merrifield Ph.D., Wendy Ostroff, Ph.D., Scott Gordon, Ph.D.
Student Researcher: Adam Stutz
Conflicts of interest exist between the largest suppliers of electronic voting machines in the United States and key leaders of the Republican Party. While the technical problems with the voting machines themselves have received a certain amount of coverage in the mainstream media, the political conflicts of interest, though well documented, have received almost none. Election analysts on both sides of the fence are charging that while particular industries have traditionally formed alliances with one or another of the parties, political affiliations within the voting machine industry are inappropriate— and have dangerous implications for our democratic process.
Election Systems & Software (ES&S), Diebold, and Sequoia are the companies primarily involved in implementing the new, often faulty, technology at voting stations throughout the country. All three have strong ties to the Bush Administration and other Republican leaders, along with major defense contractors in the United States. ES&S and Diebold, owned by brothers Bob and Todd Urosevich, will be counting about 80% of the votes cast in 2004. Each one of the three companies has a past plagued by financial scandal and political controversy:
In 1999 the Justice Department filed federal charges against Sequoia alleging that employees paid out more than 8 million dollars in bribes. Shortly thereafter, election officials for Pinellas County, Florida, cancelled a fifteen-million-dollar contract with Sequoia after it was discovered that Phil Foster, a Sequoia executive, faced indictment for money laundering and bribery.
Michael McCarthy, owner of ES&S (formerly known as American Information Systems), served as Senator Chuck Hagel's campaign manager in both the 1996 and 2002 elections. Senator Hagel owns close to $5 million in stock in the ES&S parent company. In 1996 and 2002 eighty percent of Senator Hagel's votes were counted by ES&S.
Diebold, the most well known of these three major groups, is under scrutiny for a memo that Diebold's CEO, Walden O'Dell, sent out promising Ohio's votes to Bush in the 2004 election. Beyond this faux pas, intra-office memos were circulated on the Internet stating that Diebold employees were aware of bugs within their systems and that the network is poorly guarded against hackers.
Diebold has now taken steps to use an outside organization, Scientific Applications International Corporation (SAIC) of San Diego, to take responsibility for security issues within their software. But this presents yet another conflict of interest. A majority of officials on the board are former members of either the Pentagon or the CIA, many of whom are closely allied with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Members of the board of directors include:
Army Gen. Wayne Downing, former chief counter-terrorism expert on the National Security Council;
Former CIA Director Bobby Ray Inman;
Retired Adm. William Owens, who served as former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and now sits on Donald Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board;
Robert Gates, former director of the CIA and veteran of the Iran Contra scandal.
Additionally, SAIC has had a plethora of charges brought against them including indictments by the Justice Department for the mismanagement of a Superfund toxic cleanup and misappropriation of funds in the purchase of F-15 fighter jets.
Some of the most generous contributors to Republican campaigns are also some of the largest investors in ES&S, Sequoia, and Diebold. Most notable of these are government defense contractors Northrup-Grumman, Lockheed-Martin, Electronic Data Systems (EDS) and Accenture, a member of the U.S. Coalition of Service Industries and a major proponent of privatization and Free Trade of services provided by the WTO and GATT. None of these contractors are politically neutral, and all have high stakes in the construction of electronic voting systems. Accenture was involved in financial scandals, and charged with incompetence in both Canada and the US throughout the '90s and 2000s.
Under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) passed in October of 2002, states have been required to submit plans to make the switch from punch cards to a primarily electronic system in time for the 2004 elections. It should be noted that the voting machine companies continue to hold title to the software— even after implementation. Populex, the company contracted to provide voting systems in Illinois has former Defense Secretary, Frank Carlucci, on its advisory board.
UPDATE BY MARK LEWELLEN-BIDDLE: I think this story concerns one of the most important issues of our time. From the beginning of the year, articles expressing concerns over the security of electronic voting machines, and the lack of a verifiable paper trail, have appeared in newspapers around the country as well as in mainstream magazines. Since nearly 50 million Americans will cast votes on electronic voting machines during the coming November elections, security, and the verifiability of our votes, is undeniably important. I believe, however, that the ongoing debate, as necessary as it is, remains focused on peripheral issues.
Few, if any, of the authors are pursuing questions raised in the original article: why are IT companies and defense contractors so deeply involved in the movement to foist electronic voting machines onto not only the American electorate, but voters around the world? Why is there so much secrecy surrounding the companies who have designated themselves the certifiers of the security and reliability of electronic voting machines and software? Why is one of those self-designated testing centers, Wyle labs, who recently admitted to certifying Sequoia software despite known flaws, still being allowed to certify voting software? If electronic voting is as safe and reliable as its proponents claim it to be, why did the Election Systems Task Force (Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, EDS, and Accenture) deem it necessary to hire a high-powered Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm (Information Technology Association of America) to convince us? One does not have to be conspiratorially bent to admit that these are intriguing questions.
Another issue, which is receiving no public scrutiny, is that by taking the control over the electoral process away from local officials and placing it in the hands of a very small number of for-profit corporations, we are effectively privatizing America's most public endeavor. After a recent election here in Lafayette, using Diebold voting machines, I called election officials to ask some questions. One of them was, “Where were the votes counted?” The election official responded, “Right here; we count them ourselves.” I asked how the votes were counted. Changing her tone to that of one instructing a third-grader, the official patiently explained to me that, “Each machine has a memory card that stores the votes. When the polls close, we bring all the cards back to headquarters and insert them into a machine and count the votes.” Understanding full well that the official missed the irony of her words, I thanked her for her time, and hung up.
I first became interested in electronic voting machines when I read Bev Harris’ Black Box Voting. It is an invaluable book for anyone concerned with the direction in which the American electoral process appears to be headed. Her website,
Buy the book "Censored 2005"