Voting Machines Gone Wild
by Mark Lewellen-Biddle
In These Times magazine,
As the federally mandated deadline nears
for state election officials to replace lever and punch-card voting
machines with electronic systems, disturbing and systemic problems
E-voting has obvious downsides-no ability
to check recorded votes, no ability to perform meaningful recounts
and susceptibility to electronic voting fraud. Nonetheless, the
2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA) mandates that by January 1 states
submit plans to make the switch in time for the 2006 elections.
More troubling, the backers of the act
and the manufactures of e-voting machines are a rat's nest of
conflicts that includes Northrop-Grumman, Lockheed-Martin, Electronic
Data Systems (EDS) and Accenture. Why are major defense contractors
like Northrop-Grumman and Lockheed-Martin mucking about in the
American electoral system? And who are Accenture and EDS?
Until January 1, 2001, Accenture was known
as Andersen Consulting, a part of Arthur Andersen. Despite having
offshore headquarters, Accenture is a member of the U.S. Coalition
of Service Industries (USCSI), an industry association that promotes
vastly extending the privatization and free trade in services
via the WTO and GATT. It also is a member of U.S. Trade, the coalition
that pushed for fast-track trade authority. In February 2001,
Accenture and election.com, the leading global election software
and services company, formed "an alliance to jointly deliver
comprehensive election solutions to governments worldwide....
The companies will combine their strengths and experience in the
development of election software and the use of technology to
offer governments new efficiencies that aid election administration."
Election.com also has a contract with the Federal Voter Assistance
program to provide online absentee balloting for the armed services.
It is expected to be completely electronic, that is, have no paper
trail against which to check results.
This is worrisome because Accenture already
has been involved in scandals in the United States and Canada.
In the late '90s, the company was hired to overhaul Ontario's
welfare service for $50 million-$70 million. By 2002, the project
was capped at $180 million, although the total reached $246 million.
To meet its contractual agreement with Accenture, the Ontario
government was forced to cut welfare payments to $355.71 per child
in poverty and fire large numbers of social service workers. Election.com
also had problems in Canada. The company contracted to provide
online Internet voting for the National Democratic Party in 2003,
but hackers paralyzed the central computer and disrupted voting.
The security and accuracy of election.com's voting software has
since come under attack by Canadian voters who also challenged
the ballotless software.
EDS, another internationally oriented
information technology corporation, recently received a $51 million
subcontract from Sytel Inc, a software and service provider to
the Army, Air Force and Dow Chemical, among others, to "support
personnel systems including personnel management, hiring and job
postings, employee training, job exchange programs and Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission complaint tracking for the Department of
Why Northrop-Grumman, Lockheed-Martin,
EDS and Accenture have been hired to alter the election process
in America becomes clear when personnel is considered. The three
largest voting machine companies in America are Election Systems
and Software (ES&S), Sequoia and Diebold. Like Accenture,
they, too, have tarnished pasts.
ES&S, formerly American Information
Systems, is owned by the McCarthy Group, which was founded in
the '90s by Michael McCarthy, campaign director to Sen. Chuck
Hagel (R-Neb.) during the 1996 and 2002 elections. In a January
interview with Bev Harris on talion.com, McCarthy said that "Hagel
still owns up to $5 million in the ES&S parent company, the
McCarthy Group" and that "Hagel also had owned shares
in AIS Investors Inc., a group of investors in ES&S itself."
According to Harris, "Hagel did not disclose owning or selling
shares in AIS Investors Inc." to the Senate Ethics Committee,
"nor did he disclose that ES&S is an underlying asset
of McCarthy Group." In an October article in the London Independent,
Andrew Gumbel writes that Hagel "became the first Republican
in 24 years to be elected to the Senate from Nebraska, cheered
on by the Omaha World-Herald newspaper which also happens to be
a big investor in ES&S." In what can only be called a
glaring conflict of interest, "80 per cent (sic) of Mr. Hagel's
winning votes-both in 1996 and in 2002-were counted, under the
usual terms of confidentiality, by his own company."
Sequoia is the second-largest company,
with roughly one-third of the voting machine market. In 1999,
the Justice Department filed federal charges against Sequoia alleging
that employees paid out more than $8 million in bribes. In 2001,
election officials in Pinellas County, Florida, cancelled a $15.5
million contract for voting equipment after discovering that Phil
Foster, a Sequoia executive, faced indictment in Louisiana for
money laundering and corruption.
Diebold is probably the best known of
the three because of its recent unsuccessful attempt to quash
the release of thousands of inter-office memos over the Internet.
The memos show that Diebold executives were aware of bugs in the
company's software and warn that the network is poorly protected
against hackers. The company also came under scrutiny because
of voting irregularities caused by its machines in the 2000 election
Diebold's CEO, Walden O'Dell is an avid
supporter of George W. Bush and has come under attack for penning
a fund-raising letter in which he promised to help deliver Ohio's
votes to Bush in 2004. Diebold has been retained by the state
of Maryland to provide voting software for the 2004 election,
but because of ongoing negative publicity, Diebold hired Scientific
Applications International Corporation (SAIC) of San Diego, to
assess the security of the company's voting software.
But wait, there's more
Many SAIC officers are current or former
government and military officials. Retired Army Gen. Wayne Downing,
who until last summer served as chief counter-terrorism expert
on the National Security Council, is a member of SAIC's board.
Also on the board is former CIA Director Bobby Ray Inman, who
served as director of the National Security Agency, deputy director
of the CIA and vice director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
During the first Bush administration and while on the board of
SAIC, Inman was a member of the National Foreign Intelligence
Board, an advisory group that reports to the president and to
the director of Central Intelligence.
Retired Adm. William Owens, a former vice
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who sits on Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board, served as SAIC's president
and CEO and until recently was its vice chairman. He now is chairman
of the board of VoteHere, which seeks to provide cryptography
and computer software security for the electronic election industry.
Robert Gates, ex-CIA director, former SAIC board member and a
veteran of the Iran-Contra scandal, also is on the board of VoteHere.
SAIC has a history of problems. In a 1995
article in Web Review, investigative journalist Stephen Pizzo
notes that in 1990 the Justice Department indicted SAIC on 10
felony counts for fraud, claiming that SAIC mismanaged a Superfund
toxic cleanup site. SAIC pleaded guilty. In 1993 the Justice Department
again brought charges against the company for "civil fraud
on an F-15 fighter contract." In May 1995, the company was
charged with Iying "about security system tests it conducted
for a Treasury Department currency plant in Fort Worth, Texas."
It is not clear how SAIC became the company
of choice to evaluate security standards of the voting machine
industry. Under HAVA, Bush is required to establish an "oversight
committee, headed by two Democrats and two Republicans, as well
as a technical panel to determine standards for new voting machinery.
The four commission heads were to be in place by last February,
but [as of October 13] just one has been appointed. The technical
panel also remains unconstituted, even though the new machines
it is supposed to vet are already being sold in large quantities,"
Many computer experts agree that electronic
voting represents the most feasible means of conducting large-scale
elections, but not until security of the software can be established.
But the voting machine companies want to retain secrecy over their
codes as well as maintain control over the entire voting process,
including the counting of ballots.
Most voting machines do not provide a
paper trail so, in the case of a recount, all one can do is push
a button and watch as the computer spits out the same set of numbers.
Americans are being rushed into this electronic
voting frontier with little public awareness of the consequences.
Diebold already has between 35,000 and 50,000 machines in place
around the country. With the government investing nearly $4 billion
in voting machines, those who insist on ensuring that the system
is secure have been shunted aside.
Perhaps this is how the administration
intends to bring democracy to the world: Hold elections using
voting machines supplied by Diebold, ES&S and Sequoia and
elect friendly governments. Then, hope that those people who have
never experienced the democratic process won't know the difference.
More troubling is that many Americans may not know the difference,
Mark Lewellen-Biddle is working on his
Ph.D. in American Studies and Political Science at Purdue University.
Reforming the Electoral Process