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Whose Voting Machines?

Two of the corporations that provide nearly all of the voting machines in the United States—ES&S and Diebold—are controlled by Republicans with strong ties to the Bush administration. One company is also linked to a far-right fundamentalist Christian movement.

In a recent mailing to Republican donors, Walden O'Dell, CEO of Diebold Inc., one of three companies certified to sell electronic voting equipment to the state of Ohio, stated his commitment “to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.”

All of the $195,000 Diebold has given in political contributions since 2000 went to the Republican Party or Republican candidates, as has all of the over $240,000 that the company's directors and chief officers have donated, according to OpenSecrets.org.

Diebold and ES&S are heavily interconnected. Brothers Todd and Bob Urosevich founded American Information Services (AIS), which became ES&S when AIS merged with Business Records Corporation (BRC). Todd works at ES&S as vice president, while Bob is now president of Diebold. ES&S claims that it counted 56 percent of U.S. votes in the last four presidential elections.

AIS was initially funded by Howard Ahmanson. Ahmanson is a member of the Council for National Policy, a “steering group” linked to the Bush administration, and has holdings in ES&S. Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, former CEO of AIS, had significant AIS holdings when the company counted the votes for his surprise election victory in 1996. Hagel has been scrutinized by the Senate Ethics Committee over his investments in the McCarthy Group. ES&S, which counted the votes when Hagel was re-elected in 2002, is a subsidiary of the McCarthy Group, according to The Hill.

BRC was started with money from Texas billionaire Nelson Bunker Hunt. Both Ahmanson and Hunt are large contributors to the Chalcedon Foundation, a think tank for the Christian Reconstruction movement, which advocates literal application of Old-Testament law.

The company hired by the Republican governor of Maryland to analyze Diebold's computer voting systems, defense contractor SAIC, also has close Republican ties. SAIC reported that security flaws in Diebold's systems could be fixed.

SAIC board members Admiral Bill Owens (former military aide to Dick Cheney), and ex-CIA chief Robert Gates, who was implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s, also serve on the board of VoteHere, a growing elections software company. SAIC itself is producing electronic voting systems in partnership with Diversified Dynamics.

SAIC has been investigated for fraud and security lapses in its electronic systems, but has received contracts for work in Iraq.
Electronic security and verifiability have become issues in the shift to computerized voting mandated by the Help America Vote Act. Voting expert Rebecca Mercuri, a Bryn Mawr College professor of computer science, argues that computer voting technology is vulnerable to error and manipulation and should not be used unless it includes paper receipts. (See YES!, Spring 2003 and Fall 2003.)


—Doug Pibel, Carolyn McConnell, and Krista Camenzind

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