At a time when there is much controversy over electronic voting and some election experts are raising concerns about the integrity of such voting, should the leading manufacturers of electronic voting machines be wining and dining state and local officials responsible for conducting elections? Well, they are.
This week, scores of elections officials from across the country have gathered in Washington for a conference sponsored by the Election Center. A Houston-based nonprofit, the Election Center is an organization for government employees responsible for voter registration and elections administration–such as voter registrars, elections supervisors, city clerks, state election directors, and secretaries of state. According to the group’s website, its purpose “is to promote, preserve, and improve democracy.” The Election Center keeps its members up-to-date on regulations and court decisions. It performs research for registration and elections officials. It offers classes in professional practices.
The center’s description of its activities does not note that it also allows the manufacturers of voting equipment to hobnob with state and local elections officials. At this week’s national conference, election officials have been able to attend panels on the Help America Vote Act, ethical dilemmas, recounts, voting for the blind and disabled, and elections litigation. (At one panel, according to an audience member, Representative Bob Ney, a Republican, was applauded when he dismissed demands for auditable paper trails for electronic voting, noting that a rigged electronic machine could also be fixed to produce a misleading paper trail. ) But in the hallways of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, voting machine manufacturers–including the companies that have drawn the most criticism–have been plying their wares. And to impress the local officials at the conference, three leading manufacturers of voting machines have been paying to make sure the attendees–the government employees who decide what voting machines are purchased–have a swell time.
According to the center’s program for the conference, the conference’s welcoming reception on August 26 was underwritten by Diebold Election Systems. The next day, a scheduled “Dinner Cruise on the Potomac and Monuments by Night Tour” was cosponsored by Sequoia Voting Systems. And Election Systems and Software (ES&S) agreed to pick up the tab for the final day’s “Graduation Luncheon and Awards Ceremony.”
Each of these firms have had brushes with controversy. Sequoia had their machines rejected in the 1990s by New York City due to concerns about fraud. Earlier this year, Diebold machines malfunctioned in California and disenfranchised thousands of voters. Election officials there accused Diebold officials of lying and misconduct, and Secretary of State Kevin Shelley banned Diebold machines from four counties. Earlier, Diebold CEO Walden O’Dell, a fundraiser for George W. Bush, said in a letter that he was “committed to helping Ohio deliver is electoral votes” to Bush. After that letter was revealed, he prohibited Diebold executives and employees from making political contributions. But since 1991, Diebold has handed GOPers $346,366 and Democrats $2700, as Ronnie Dugger recently noted in The Nation, a ratio of 127-1. ES&S is owned by prominent conservatives in Nebraska.