Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Monopoly Looms in Electronic Voting

By Lisa Pease
September 16, 2009

While we’ve been concentrating on the healthcare debate, the economy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, another story important to American democracy has gotten inadequate attention: a single company is poised to monopolize the counting of over 75 percent of the nation’s votes.

Read on.


James Young said...

Let me make sure I have this straight: monopoly in supplying voting machines --- bad; monopoly in education, political speech, health care, credit and lending --- good.

Just so we have that straight.

Anonymous said...

James, there's no equivalence there. You are comparing apples and orangees.

Just so we have that straight.

Pecosin Rat said...

The ES&S potential monopoly goes beyond voting machines. Missouri's local freedom of information act exposed the fact that in addition to providing all the voting and counting machines for St. Louis County, Missouri, ES&S printed all the ballots for the 2008 election, too. (Paper ballots are required since the county cannot afford to buy enough $5,000 machines to count more than 40% of an election with a big turnout.)

Further, you don't mention the fact that no one--outside of employees of the manufacturer--reviews the software code that collects and counts votes, no one (not at the state, federal, or local level). In Missouri it is actually illegal for anyone to see the code even if election fraud is suspected unless the manufacturer goes bankrupt.

Also, the ES&S iVotronics DRE was found by the Sec. of State for Florida (after the botched Congressional District 13 race for Katherine Harris' seat) to have an undisclosed software backdoor allowing anyone knowing about it to bypass all local passwords and access any part of the machine or its memory. There is no way to know if that problem still exists in the software or not since no one reviews the code.

If security of the vote isn't enough of a concern, there are the economics of these systems. Studies here and in North Carolina have demonstrated that DRE-based systems cost approximately 30% more to maintain than paper-ballot-based optical scan equipment--even accounting for the cost of printing additional ballots. Just for St. Louis County that means approximately $1.8 million in the annual $8 million budget.

Finally, there is the question of speed. Place a DRE side by side with a person filling out a paper ballot and the DRE may well collect the vote faster. But in an election the hand-marked paper ballots beat DREs because it is so easy to just hand out more pens. At the polling place there is no time or money that can produce more $5,000 DREs when there are more people in line than expected.

DREs are much less secure, cost more to operate, and slow-down the voting process, what reason is there for having them?

Lisa Pease said...

All excellent points, Pecosin. Why not write a follow-up article?