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Christian Smith-Socaris on October 1, 2009 - 11:05am
Last month, leading voting machine manufacturer Elections Systems & Software (ES&S) purchased Premier Election Solutions from its parent company, Diebold Inc. ES&S currently controls 50% of the voting machine market in the US and the acquisition of Premier will add another 33%, giving the company control of over 80% of the market. The sale was not announced prior to completion and has raised serious concerns among voting integrity advocates and lawmakers.
The almost total control that the merger gives ES&S in the US voting machine market raises strong anti-trust concerns, especially considering the absence of other large competitors in the market, which would prevent competitive bidding for voting machine contracts in many states. These concerns led US Sen. Charles Schumer and the election integrity organization Voter Action to request Department of Justice review of the merger under anti-trust law. Both the Senator and Voter Action point to the serious consequences that monopoly control of voting machine production and maintenance could have for our democracy, noting that a "[GAO] report indicates that having a diversity of voting systems in our country may decrease the likelihood of widespread election fraud," and that "the ES&S/Premier acquisition is absolutely unique in its potential for disturbing U.S. election processes and results."
ES&S and Premier are perhaps the most problem-plagued producers of voting equipment. The actions of each alone have given serious heartburn to election officials and activists nationwide, which in part explains the strong response against their merger. However, privatized election systems are in and of themselves a substantial threat to the integrity of our voting systems, giving the crucial task of tabulating and canvasing votes to private corporations with little public oversight. Election reformers in and out of government have for years advocated for full public control of elections and strict transparency as the only way to run legitimate elections. This new merger is perhaps a worst-case scenario, giving one company control of much of the nation's election infrastructure.
The number three machine maker, Hart InterCivic, has filed a lawsuit seeking to undo the sale, and a federal judge in New Jersey has agreed to hear the company's request for a preliminary injunction. Hart's attorney, Johnathan Rubin, noted that the government was not a party to the lawsuit because "these parties did a stealth transaction in an apparent attempt to end-run the government."
Cleveland Plain Dealer - Diebold Inc. Sells Most of its Electronic Voting Machine Business
Senator Charles Schumer - Schumer Urges Justice Dept. to Probe Diebold's Proposed Sale of Election Machine Business to Its Biggest Competitor
Associated Press - Voter Group Challenges Diebold Voting Machine Sale
McClatchy - Judge Considers Bid to Block Merger of Voting Machine Giants
New York TImes - The Business of Voting Machines
Rob Richie - "Diebold's End: Consolidation of Largest Voting Companies Shows Need to Reform Elections"
Progressive States Network - Preventing Election Privatization