s doubts have grown about the
reliability of electronic voting, some of its loudest defenders have
been state and local election officials. Many of those same
officials have financial ties to voting machine companies. While
they may sincerely think that electronic voting machines are so
trustworthy that there is no need for a paper record of votes, their
views have to be regarded with suspicion until their conflicts are
Computer scientists, who understand the technology better than
anyone else, have been outspoken about the perils of electronic
voting. Good government groups, like Common Cause, are increasingly
mobilizing grass-roots opposition. And state governments in a
growing number of states, including California and Ohio, have pushed
through much-needed laws that require electronic voting machines to
produce paper records.
But these groups have faced intense opposition from election
officials. At a hearing this spring, officials from Georgia,
California and Texas dismissed concerns about electronic voting, and
argued that voter-verifiable paper trails, which voters can check to
ensure their vote was correctly recorded, are impractical. The
Election Center, which does election training and policy work, and
whose board is dominated by state and local election officials, says
the real problem is people who "scare voters and public officials
with claims that the voting equipment and/or its software can be
manipulated to change the outcome of elections."
What election officials do not mention, however, are the close
ties they have to the voting machine industry. A disturbing number
end up working for voting machine companies. When Bill Jones left
office as California's secretary of state in 2003, he quickly became
a consultant to Sequoia Voting Systems. His assistant secretary of
state took a full-time job there. Former secretaries of state from
Florida and Georgia have signed on as lobbyists for Election Systems
and Software and Diebold Election Systems. The list goes on.
Even while in office, many election officials are happy to accept
voting machine companies' largess. The Election Center takes money
from Diebold and other machine companies, though it will not say how
much. At the center's national conference last month, the companies
underwrote meals and a dinner cruise.
Forty-three percent of the budget of the National Association of
Secretaries of State comes from voting machine companies and other
vendors, and at its conference this summer in New Orleans,
Accenture, which compiles voter registration databases for states,
sponsored a dinner at the Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge.
There are also reports of election officials being directly
offered gifts. Last year, the Columbus Dispatch reported that a
voting machine company was offering concert tickets and limousine
rides while competing for a contract worth as much as $100 million,
if not more.
When electronic voting was first rolled out, election officials
and voting machine companies generally acted with little or no
public participation. But now the public is quite rightly insisting
on greater transparency and more say in the decisions. If election
officials want credibility in this national discussion, they must do
more to demonstrate that their only loyalty is to the voter.
Making Votes Count: Editorials in this series remain online