One Company…All the Votes

On September 3, 2009, Election Systems & Software (ES & S) acquired Premier Election Solutions (PES), a subsidiary of Diebold.

Why is this important?  ES & S and Diebold are the two largest suppliers of electronic voting machines and voting software in the country.  With the sale by Diebold of PES to Election Systems & Software, one company will control the overwhelming majority of elections in the United States.  According to the ES & S website, “nearly 67 million registered voters are supported by ES&S equipment.”  With the purchase of PES, ES & S will “support” even more voters in almost every state in the country.

This is not the first time ES & S has attempted to buy out the (little) competition it has.  As one watchdog group reports, in 1997 ES & S attempted to buy Business Records Corporation but was denied the sale by the Securities and Exchange Commission.  The SEC denied the sale because of antitrust concerns.  Business Records Corporation was subsequently divided between ES & S and Sequoia Voting Systems.  So, while ES & S didn’t get the entire business, it did receive a larger portion of the election market than it had. 

The healthcare reform debate and the economy have rightly dominated political discussion in the country for some time.  But I would suggest that the sale of PES to ES & S is just as important.  The potential problems with electronic voting are numerous.   In 2006, polling places in eight counties in Arkansas were forced to find other voting systems for a scheduled runoff election when they discovered programming errors in the ES & S touch-screen machines.  This year, six election officials in Clay County, Kentucky, were indicted for discovering and using a flaw  in the interface of ES & S  touch-screen systems to change the votes of voters after the voter believed they had completed voting (This link will take you to the indictment:  These are only a couple examples of reported problems.

The political parties debate (and I use that term loosely) issues in an attempt to gain public support and votes.  Politicians want to win campaigns, and this can only happen if the office holder persuades supporters to vote.  Hence, voting is important.   But will we hear about the potential problems of one privately held company controlling the great majority of all elections in the country from any politician?  Will we hear about the potential for vote tampering with the use of electronic voting machines?  I doubt it.  Why?  Because the actual voting system in the U.S. is not important until after the voting is done.  After the problems occur, then one party can blame the other one for all the trouble.  This is how politicians handle election problems…deal with it after it happens because it makes for better politics.  Fire up the base and accuse the other side of stealing the election.

But what would happen if we actual dealt with these things up front?  If voting really matters, then shouldn’t we be concerned about electronic voting machines and software that may be able to be hacked and tampered with?  Shouldn’t we all be worried about one company consolidating power and counting millions and millions of votes?  If politicians are so concerned with getting all of us to vote, then shouldn’t these same people be concerned with the machines and software that do not leave a paper trail and can potentially be hacked?  Leaders step up and talk about issues even when it is not popular or on the public radar.  I hope some legislator steps up and addresses the concerns with ES & S and with electronic voting in general.  But if the past tells us anything, we will discuss this again after the 2010 midterm elections.



One Response

  1. So here’s an idea. Mark the ballot with a big X then dip your finger in the ink so officials can tell you voted. I agree totally that the problems inherent with any electronic voting method should be closely scrutinized. Oh wait! I can hear the Supreme Court ruling on this issue during Obama v. Mitch.

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