By Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman
The Rag Blog
Unless U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder intervenes, your electronic vote in 2010 will probably be owned by the Republican-connected ES&S Corporation. With 80% ownership of America's electronic voting machines, ES&S could have the power to shape America's future with a few proprietary keystrokes.
ES&S has just purchased the voting machine division of the Ohio-based Diebold, whose role in fixing the 2004 presidential election for George W. Bush is infamous.
Critics of the merger hope Holder will rescind the purchase on anti-trust grounds.
But only a transparent system totally based on hand-counted paper ballots, with universal automatic voter registration, can get us even remotely close to a reliable vote count in the future.
For even if Holder does void this purchase, ES&S and Diebold in tandem will still control four of every five votes cast on touchscreen machines. As the U.S. Supreme Court seems poised to open the floodgates on corporate campaign spending, the only difference could be that those who would buy our elections will have to write two checks instead of one.
And in fact, it's even worse than that. ES&S, Diebold and a tiny handful of sibling Republican voting equipment and computing companies control not only the touchscreen machines, but also the electronic tabulators that count millions of scantron ballots, AND the electronic polling books that decide who gets to vote and who doesn't.
Let's do a quick review:
ES&S, Diebold and other companies tied to election hardware and software are owned and operated by a handful of very wealthy conservatives, or right-to-life ideologues, with long-standing direct ties to the Republican Party;
As votes will be increasingly cast on optiscans, touchscreens or computer voting machines in the United States in 2010, the scant few so-called paper trail mechanisms that are in place will offer little security against electronic vote theft;
The source code on all U.S. touchscreen machines now used for the casting and counting of ballots is proprietary, meaning the companies that own and operate the machines -- including ES&S -- are not required to share with the public the details of how those machines actually work;
Although there are official mechanisms for monitoring and recounts, none carry any real weight in the face of the public's inability to gain control or even access to this electronic source code, whose proprietary standing has been upheld by the courts;
With the newly merged ES&S/Diebold now apparently controlling 80% of the national vote through hardware and software, this GOP-connected corporation will have the power to alter virtually every election in the U.S. with a few keystrokes. Unless there is a massive, successful grassroots campaign between now and 2012, the same will hold true for the next US presidential election;
Aside from its control of touchscreen machines, the merged Diebold/ES&S also controls a significant percent of the electronic optiscan tabulators to count cards on which voters use pencils to fill in circles, indicating their vote. Accounts of fraud, rigging, theft and abuse of these optiscan systems arewell-documented and innumerable. Any corporation that prints these ballots and runs the machines designated to count them can control yet another major piece of the US vote count;
The merged ES&S/Diebold now also controls the electronic voter registration systems in many counties and states. With that control comes the ability to remove registered voters without significant public accountability. In the 2004 election, nearly 25% of all the registered voters in the Democratic-rich city of Cleveland were purged, including 10,000 voters erased "accidentally" by a Diebold electronic pollbook system. So in addition to controlling the vote counts on touchscreen and optiscan voting machines, the merged Diebold/ES&S and sympathetic hardware and software companies that service computerized voting equipment will control who actually gets to cast a vote in the first place.
Lest we forget: in 2000, long before this ES&S/Diebold purchase was proposed, Choicepoint, a GOP-controlled data management firm, hired by Florida’s Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris, removed up to 150,000 Florida citizens from voter rolls on the pretense that they were ex-felons. The vast majority of them were not.
Computer software "disappeared" 16,000 votes from Al Gore's column at a critical moment on election night, allowing George W. Bush’s first cousin John Ellis, a Fox News analyst, to proclaim him the winner. The election was officially decided by less than 700 votes and a 5-4 Supreme Court vote preventing a full recount. An independent audit later showed Gore was the rightful winner.
In 2004, more than 300,000 Ohio citizens were removed from voter rolls by GOP-controlled county election boards (more than one million have been removed since).
Various dirty tricks prevented still tens of thousands more Ohioans from voting. The vote count was marred by a wide range of official manipulations coordinated by then-Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell.
Diebold was a major player in the 2004 Ohio elections, but was joined by numerous other computer voting firms and their technicians in "recounting the vote" which confirmed the Bush "victory," despite exit poll results and other evidence to the contrary. In defiance of a federal court order, 56 of 88 Ohio counties destroyed some or all of their ballots or election records. No one has been prosecuted.
In short, the ES&S purchase of Diebold's voting machine operation is merely the tip of a toxic iceberg. Voiding the merger will do nothing to solve the REAL problem, which is an electronic-based system of voter registration and ballot counting that is potentially controlled by private corporations and contractors whose agenda is to make large profits and protect the system that guarantees them.
Although elections based on universal automatic registration and hand-counted paper ballots are not foolproof, they constitute a start. Stealing an election by stuffing paper ballot boxes at the "retail" level is far more difficult than stealing votes at the "wholesale" level with an electronic flip of a switch.
As it's done in numerous other countries throughout the world, the only realistic means by which the U.S. can establish a democratic system of ballot casting and counting is to do it the old-fashioned way. With human-scale checks and balances we might even be secure in the knowledge that our elections and vote counts will truly reflect the will of the people. What a concept!
[Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman have co-authored four books on election protection, available at freepress.org at, where this article also appears, and where Bob's Fitrakis Files are also available. Harvey Wasserman's History of the U.S. is at harveywasserman.com.]