via Outsourcing: Democracy is Lost

A report this week from describes the devastating damage caused by outsourcing our elections and giving over complete control to vendors:

Vendors are Undermining the Structure of U.S. Elections
A VotersUnite report on the current situation and
how to reclaim elecitons — in 2008 and beyond

The report comes with an Executive Summary
A fourty page Full Report
And a Lou Dobbs video interview with the author

This report is sad, devastating, important, and very readable. You can and should read the whole report. The summary or a few quotes cannot do it justice. Here are a few quotes to encourage you to read the entire report:

As we approach the 2008 general election, the structure of elections in the United States – once reliant on local representatives accountable to the public – has become almost wholly dependent on large corporations, which are not accountable to the public. Most local officials charged with running elections are now unable to administer elections without the equipment, services, and trade-secret software of a small number of corporations.

If the vendors withdrew their support for elections now, our election structure would collapse. However, some states and localities are recognizing the threat that vendor-dependency poses to elections. They are using ingenuity and determination to begin reversing the direction…

Such dependency has allowed vendors to:

  • Coerce election officials into risk-riddled agreements, as occurred in Angelina County, Texas in May 2008.
  • Endanger election officials’ ability to comply with federal court orders, as occurred in Nassau County, New York in July 2008.
  • Escape criminal penalties for knowingly violating state laws and causing election debacles,
    as occurred in San Diego, California in 2004.

Analysis of the impact of laws and decisions at all levels of government demonstrates that lawmakers and officials have facilitated the dependence of local elections on private corporations. This report explores:

  • How the mandates of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) and the inaction of the federal government left the states and localities with nowhere to turn but to the vendors.
  • How state laws, passed by ill-informed representatives, limited the options of local officials to the voting systems developed by big corporations.

Voting system vendors’ contracts, communications, and histories explored in this report reveal that vendors exploit the local jurisdictions’ dependency by charging exorbitant fees, violating laws and ethics, exerting proprietary control over the machinery of elections, and disclaiming unaccountability…

Our dependence on vendor support has left our election structure vulnerable to corporate decisions that are not in the public interest, corporate profiteering, and claims of trade-secrecy for information that is essential to public oversight of elections…

Meanwhile, states pass laws requiring high-tech equipment based on the technology currently offered by vendors. Members of Congress periodically introduce bills that would require higher-tech equipment that isn’t yet invented, give legal priority to vendors’ claims of trade secrecy over citizens’ rights to observe their elections, and even invite the vendors to sit at the table where standards for voting systems are developed.

Vendors exploit these opportunities to increase their profits and expand their control, and with each extension of vendors’ reach into election management, more reach becomes possible…

Congress set the stage, and the vendors collected a heavy flow of federal funds that paid for much of the cost of the equipment and installation. But HAVA doesn’t pay for subsequent years of maintenance, support, and assistance. Now that the local jurisdictions have become dependent on high-tech devices to administer elections, they are being crushed under the invoices from the vendors that maintain and support those devices.

Disturbingly, many of these devices are not auditable as required by HAVA, are not accessible as required by HAVA,36 and do not report votes accurately as required by HAVA

Actually, the only way to really understand how bad the situation is to read the entire report, especially the case studies.

We could say its not this bad in Connecticut – but that might provide us a false sense of confidence. In the near future we will take a look at Connecticut in the light of and context of this report.


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