Friday, February 26, 2010

Meanwhile, Back In The Voting Booth

Election 2010 is just around the corner, less than six months away. It's bound to be a contentious one if yesterday's healthcare summit at the White House is any indication, contentious and quite possibly close. That's why this NY Times editorial is a timely one. The very last thing we need right now is a reprise of Election 2000.

It was bad news for the voting public when Election Systems and Software, the nation’s largest voting machine company, announced last fall that it was acquiring the elections division of Diebold, the nation’s second-largest voting machine company.

The combination could mean that nearly 70 percent of the nation’s precincts would use machines made by a single company. If the deal is allowed to go through, it would make it harder for jurisdictions to bargain effectively on price and quality. The Justice Department should reject it as a violation of antitrust rules that is clearly not in the public’s interest.

In the elections since 2000, Diebold has been excoriated for machines that were easily manipulated and hackable and for its refusal to make public its code. The bad press was sufficient to nudge the company into making some concessions, but only grudgingly and only at a glacial pace. That's bad enough, but Election Systems and Software has an even worse record.

A group of election administrators, fair-voting advocates and computer experts wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. recently to warn of the dangers if the deal closes. They warned that Election Systems and Software already has a bad record on open competition, including contract clauses that prevent jurisdictions that buy their machines from hiring other vendors to service them.

The Justice Department, as the editorial points out, does have some antitrust powers. This is clearly the time to use it.

Of course, it also would help if Congress stepped in and revisited the various bills proposed in the past which would have at least required a paper trail to back up the electronic tallying, but that might be asking too much from our congresscritters who are too busy whining on other issues to consider actually protecting this integral part of our democracy.

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