A Corporate Election
December 06, 2004, 1:00am

Regardless of partisanship, the essence of our voting process must have integrity. Why are we allowing private for-profit corporations, loyal to politicians that give them lucrative contracts worth millions of dollars, manage our votes? How can we trust the outcome of our elections when we have outsourced the managing of our electoral process and the counting of the ballots to private corporations who keep secret from election administrators the program codes for their software and refuse to offer a verifiable auditable paper trail for each vote? We cannot have a system where we entrust the fate of our country to corporations who only need to answer to their board members and shareholders and not to the American people. If we allow such a system to prevail, we will find ourselves steeped in voter fraud election after election.

In 2002, President Bush signed the Help America Vote Act, which required states to have a computerized voter registration system in place by the 2004 election. Diebold and ES&S were the two corporations chosen to be primary providers of voting machines and tabulators around the country. Diebold, run by an active and wealthy member of the Republican Party and a Bush loyalist, won the contract to be the main provider of voting machines for the state of Ohio. Diebold’s chief executive declared that he was “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president,” just as his company was bidding to supply voting machines to the state. Thus, it was no surprise when Kenneth Blackwell, who holds a dual role as Secretary of State of Ohio and co-chair of Bush’s Ohio campaign, offered Diebold the contract. ES&S was the prominent supplier of voting machines in Florida, another hotly contested battle-ground state in the 2004 election. It’s documented that the founders of ES&S have ties to right-wing evangelical Christians and Republican circles. The company’s lobbyist, Sandra Mortham, was the highly partisan predecessor to Katherine Harris as Secretary of State and a founding member of “Women for Jeb Bush.” The current vice president of Diebold and the president of ES&S are brothers. Together these two companies are responsible for tallying around 80% of the electronic votes cast in the U.S.

Democracy deserves the best election technology possible, so that every citizen’s vote is counted correctly. However, the electronic voting machines supplied by Diebold and ES&S to polling places across the country have a damaging shortcoming: they are unverifiable. When Americans cast their vote, they had no way of verifying that it was recorded. They may have seen a final screen that reflected their choices, but there was no way to tell that those choices were ultimately reported in the final tally. Voters were forced to trust that the software inside the machine was doing its job, since there was no voter-verified paper ballot. And from the evidence that has flooded in since the election, the software failed. Many voters claimed they repeatedly touched the button for Kerry, but the machines incorrectly registered their vote for Bush. In one precinct in Franklin County, Ohio, an electronic voting system gave Bush 3,893 extra votes out of a total 638 votes cast. In fact, various precincts in Ohio have reported over 100% turnout, meaning there were more votes recorded than registered voters. Based on the private corporations running this election, it’s no wonder that all the voting machine irregularities so far uncovered favor Bush. These discrepancies make me cringe when I realize that John Kerry lost this pivotal state by just 136,483 votes.

So Ohio is the new Florida in the 2004 election and we are looking at a recount headed by Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell. The same man that permitted the use of electronic machines that provided no paper record. The same man who presided over a voting system that resulted in quick, short lines in the dominantly Republican suburbs, while the inner-cities experienced four and six hour long waiting lines. The same man who ensured that wealthy precincts received ample numbers of voting machines and numerous voting places while Democratic precincts received inadequate numbers of machines in too few polling places. The same man who has completely turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the countless voter fraud and irregularity claims that have emerged on a daily basis since November 2nd. The most recent example being Ellen Connally, an African-American Supreme Court candidate who ran an under-funded race and was placed at the bottom of the ticket. She received over 257,000 more votes than Kerry in 37 counties in Ohio. Such an outcome is highly improbable and warrants immediate investigation. If only those in charge felt the same sense of urgency to restore legitimacy to our vote.

It is difficult not to question the motivations of the corporations and politicians that created and now control this system. If we have ATM machines that are made to be fail safe and offer receipts to customers after a transaction, shouldn’t our voting machines, made by the same companies, be required to provide the same verifiable receipt. Diebold and ES&S are given millions of dollars in contracts to produce and supply electronic voting machines around the country. The public can only suspect that maybe these companies know it is not in their best interest to make the technology secure, accessible, and transparent.

We clearly are fighting an uphill battle. There will be a recount of the votes in Ohio, and hopefully we will see some of the errors corrected. However, we will never fully know the real count of all the votes and the extent of the voter fraud since we don’t have a way to audit the vote with a paper trail. But in these next four years, we need to expend all of our energy to demand that corporations get their hands off our vote! And that we have machines owned by local governments and maintained, operated and programmed by civil servants. Because if we continue to have elections run by private companies that are immersed in conspiracy and fraud, more and more voters will become cynical and decide to stay home on Election Day. Ultimately that only helps deliver the Republican’s another victory.