Verified Voting Statement on the Acquisition of Premier Election Solutions

Update: 12/27/2009 Gainesville editorial: Bad Business <read> For once Florida is leading toward voting integrity:

Corporate mergers can be good for business. But if mergers lead to less competition and innovation, they are not necessarily good for consumers.

This is especially true when the “consumers” are voters and the product voting machines.

Case in point is the recent purchase of Diebold Inc. by Election Systems & Software. The result is that a single company will now make the voting machines used by 92 percent of Florida voters … and by two-thirds of the nation’s voters.

“Each of Florida’s 67 counties must negotiate its own contract with the vendor,” says Dan McCrea, president of Florida Voters Foundation. “With no competition, Florida counties and taxpayers are over a barrel.”

The good news is that state Attorney General Bill McCollum announced ths week that he will conduct an anti-trust investigation of the merger. Given Florida’s embarrassing showing in the 2000 presidential election, the last thing this state needs is to become a captive market for a single voting machine vendor.

Update: 12/19/2009 New York Post:  U.S. opens probe of Diebold unit sale -report <read>

he U.S. Department of Justice and 14 states have opened investigations into the sale of Diebold Inc’s (DBD.N) voting machines business to Election Systems & Software that could lead to the unwinding of the September sale, the New York Post said on Saturday.

Update: 11/2/2009:  Secretary Bysiewicz letter to Senator Schumer <read>

Update: 10/29/2009 New York Times Editorial: Trust, Antitrust and Your Vote <read>

The interests of voters should be part of this lawsuit. The Justice Department and state attorneys general should consider formally joining the suit, so they can argue that the combination of Election Systems & Software and Diebold would make the voting experience worse and reduce the reliability of election results. The Justice Department’s antitrust division could also make its own attempt to block the sale. The enormous market share that the newly combined company would control should by itself set off anticompetitive alarms.

Since the 2000 presidential election, the public has rightfully been skeptical about how elections are run. We fear that if any one voting machine maker is allowed to dominate the market, there will be even greater reasons to worry about the nation’s flawed voting system.

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Our friends at VerifiedVoting have released a statement articulating concerns with the acquistion of Premier Election Solutions by ES&S <read>

The recently announced acquisition of Premier Election Solutions (formerly Diebold) by its largest competitor, Election Services & Software (ES&S), requires close scrutiny, as it raises greater concerns about the security, transparency and cost of elections and creates a profound anti-competitive effect in the shrinking marketplace for voting systems…

Without competitive alternatives, a post-merger ES&S has jurisdictions over a barrel when it comes to renewing or negotiating new contracts. We can expect higher costs for ongoing services as well as future procurement of voting equipment and support services including ballot programming, printing, equipment maintenance and supplies.

We can also expect to see substantial increase in vendor control over key contract provisions. Contracts between election jurisdictions and voting system vendors have been demonstrated in some instances to present significant barriers to election transparency. Contracts may limit jurisdictions’ access to source code, or restrict their ability to conduct independent evaluations of voting systems performance and security. There are even two known cases of a contract between a county and ES&S containing a provision that stipulated that the terms of the contract itself were confidential. Lacking the negotiating leverage that robust competition provides, counties could face pressures to accept contracts that do not provide sufficient transparency.

The merger will make a risky, expensive situation worse.  Connecticut, like most jurisdictions, uses a single vendor for equipment and maintenance.  We are also dependent on a single source, our distributor LHS Associates, for memory card programming.  A single more dominant vendor portends additional problems.  Its quite possible that the optical scanners we own, the AccuVote-OS will be discontinued.  Its less likely that there will be a soluntion to our memory card problems.  For more on the dangers of outsourcing our elections see the Voters Unite Report and our associated coverage.

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