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
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:
1. 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;
2. 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;
3. 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
4. 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;
5. 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;
6. 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 are well-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
7. 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.]
NIGHTMARE WATCH : Big media's onslaught about how Obama will have let everybody down will pave the way to youth not voting, tea baggers voting in stride thus leaving the door wide open for that little extra electronic push to give back the power to the obscurantist/fundamentalist crowd.