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Corporate Control Of The Election Process

Corporate Control Of The Election Process


By John Gideon
www.VotersUnite.Org and www.VoteTrustUSA.Org
15 June 2005

Those who hold the sacred trust of overseeing the election procedures and voting systems in this country are an alphabet-soup of organizations. The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS); the National Association of State Elections Directors (NASED), the Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC), the Elections Assistance Commission (EAC); the Election Center. What do these groups have in common? They either receive their funding from the vendors or are greatly influenced by those who do receive funding from the vendors. We can only hope that the EAC can resist the influence. The others haven't.

Who are these "vendors"? The vendors are the corporate face on our elections systems the for-profit companies that develop and sell the equipment used to run our elections. They are those who have the most to gain from the influence they buy through their donations and dues to the alphabet soup, and that influence is considerable. They include names like Diebold, Elections Systems and Software (ES&S), Sequoia Voting Systems, Hart InterCivic, Accenture, UniSys, Accupoll, and more. In fact they are all proudly named on the list of corporate affiliates of NASS.[1]

The NASS Corporate Affiliates Program How does a company become a "corporate affiliate" of the National Association of Secretaries of State, and what does it mean? According to a description of the NASS Corporate Affiliate Program, corporations can donate annual dues in the amount of $20,000, $10,000, $5,000, or $2,500. Those funds go directly into the coffers of NASS. And what do the corporations get for donating to this worthy cause? "The NASS Corporate Affiliate Program is a savvy way to share ideas and build relationships with key state decision makers while supporting the civic mission of the association."[2]

Build relationships with key state decision makers? In other words, unrestricted access to lobby the people who will be spending the taxpayers' money to buy new election equipment. The scale of this unrestricted access is directly, and openly, related to the amount of "dues" that the corporation pays to the program.

The Influence of NASS over NASED The National Association of State Elections Directors (NASED) is not supported by outside dues. It is supported by members' dues and is loosely under the auspices of the Council of State Governments. However, NASED is very definitely influenced by the NASS, which openly invites influence by the vendors. In nearly every state the Secretary of State has responsibility over the administration of elections. Almost all the members of NASED work for their state's Secretary of State and serve at their pleasure. The members of NASED are also included in three out of four NASS conferences.

"NASED is proud and fortunate to maintain extremely positive relationships with both the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) and the Election Center. In order to maintain those relationships and to insure the continued sharing of information among members of each organization, NASED meets with NASS in the winter and alternates between NASS and The Election Center for its summer meetings."[3]

And who are the other attendees of these meetings? Of course the vendors get a place at the table so they can meet, greet, and treat the people who they hope will be their customers; the members of NASED. Those are important relationships because ultimately NASED decides the fate of the "vendors" product via testing guidelines that are written by the TGDC and approved by the EAC and implemented (or not)[4] by NASED.

The TGDC and Corporate Influence The Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC) is a committee formed jointly by the Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) and NASED. This committee is in place for only one reason; to formulate new standards against which all voting systems will be tested. The new standards the TGDC develops will replace the 2002 standards.

In "Is the NIST Technical Guidelines Development Committee Working For You, the Voter?"[5] I describe how these new standards are being written in consultation with the vendors who have to build products that comply with the standards. It is highly apparent that the corporations are being given a heavy hand in the formation of the standards that they will be held to in the future.

NASS Attacks the EAC The Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) is a federal agency set-up by Congress as part of the Help America Vote Act of 2002. The EAC is under-funded and under-staffed. The EAC is also under attack by NASS.

The Associated Press reported in February, 2005 that "the National Association of Secretaries of State approved a formal resolution that asks Congress to dissolve its oversight organization, the federal Election Assistance Commission, after the 2006 elections."[6] Why would NASS want to see the EAC dissolved? They say it's because elections are a 'states rights' issue.

They ignore the fact that Florida 2000 and most problems encountered in the 2004 federal election can be attributed to the poor or non-existent oversight of the members of NASS. They ignore the fact that elections are held for federal offices, and that if they had been administering elections well, Congress would have had no reason to establish the EAC.

If the EAC is dissolved, NASS will regain its previous power, and through NASS the corporations will gain even more say in how our elections are administered.

The Elections Center Teaches Ethics but Shows None Much has already been printed about the Election Center and the organization's lack of ethics in taking contributions from the voting equipment vendors while at the same time giving advice and teaching ethics to county and state elections officials.

"The Election Center, which trains election workers and advises Congress and government agencies on election process issues, has taken donations from manufacturers of electronic voting machines even as it has issued strong statements supporting the security of the machines."[7]

The Election Center also arranges conferences, sponsored by vendors, where the state and local elections officials who attend are inundated with propaganda from the vendors. In August, 2004, elections officials from all over the U.S. met in Washington DC where they were treated to a dinner cruise on the Potomac sponsored by Sequoia and a welcoming party underwritten by Diebold. The graduation and send-off party was sponsored by ES&S.[8]

The Vendors Purchase a Spokesman From the Disabled Community Even the public face of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), Mr. Jim Dickson, has admitted to being in the pocket of the vendors. Mr. Dickson has testified in favor of electronic voting machines and against paper-based voting systems before governmental panels, committees, and commissions across the country. However, he doesn't begin his testimony by saying that he receives money from the vendors for that testimony.

In an article in Wired News on October 12, 2004, journalist Kim Zetter reported: "The government lobbyist for the American Association of People with Disabilities, who has traveled around the country testifying on behalf of touch-screen voting, acknowledged this year that his organization received at least $26,000 from voting companies, but only after first denying it."[9]

The Vendors Lobby Asks That Customers Buy Defective and Not Effective Very recently another ingredient in the alphabet soup has spoken out. The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA); a coalition of, and lobbying agent for, voting equipment manufacturers; testified before the EAC that counties and states should not wait any longer for new standards, but should purchase their new election equipment now. They testified, "Under a best-case scenario, it will be difficult for states and counties to meet the HAVA deadlines for the purchase and implementation of accessible voting systems"[10]

In other words, "Don't wait until new standards are set and the voting systems have been brought up to standards that may improve those systems. It is better to go out and purchase the equipment that is still being qualified to standards written in 1990. Buy defective and not effective."

What Must be Done to Counter the Vendors' Influence? The voting machine corporations are spending millions to influence the decisions that relate to the qualification and sales of voting systems. They are influencing the development of new voting system standards, whether those standards have to be followed, who buys what type of system, and every step in between. The vendors are in too much control. We can only wrest that control from the vendors by methodically putting out the facts to inform the misinformed and by reducing the vendors' influence on our decision makers.

The news from Miami-Dade County, Florida is a strikingly big step.[11] The county supervisor of elections is recommending dumping the flawed and expensive electronic voting machines and returning to paper ballots in order to save the taxpayers' money.

With easy access to the county officials, through NASS, NASED, and the Election Center, vendor lobbyists managed to sell defective election equipment to Miami-Dade. Dedicated voting activists researched the facts and brought them forward with a determination that could not be ignored. None of the alphabet-soup organizations could deny that what the activists were saying was true.

The activists were also aided by the fact that the county has a new elections director who had no hand in the decision to buy the DRE voting machines. Stepping into a new position, outside of vendor control and with no risk to his own credibility, he was able to declare that the county made a huge mistake and wasted millions of dollars of taxpayer's money.

If all our election officials were out from under the influence of the vendors, if they weren't defensive about poorly informed decisions they had made because of that influence, what would the face on our election system look like? Certainly it's worth finding out.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] 2005 NASS Corporate Affiliate Roster; http://www.nass.org/corpaffiliates/roster.html

[2] NASS Corporate Affiliate Program; Pg. 4; http://www.nass.org/corp_brochure.pdf

[3] "Conferences", National Association of State Elections Directors; http://www.nased.org/conferences.htm

[4] "Is HAVA Being Abused?", by John Gideon and Ellen Theisen, VotersUnite.Org; http://www.votersunite.org/info/hava-abuse1.asp

[5] Is the NIST Technical Guidelines Development Committee Working For You, the Voter? By John Gideon, http://www.votetrustusa.org/blogs/nist&tdgc.htm

[6] "Election Officials Work on Making Changes" by Robert Tanner, Associated Press, February 8, 2005; http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/news/archive/2005/02/07/national/w121345S54.DTL

[7] "Group that called electronic vote secure got makers' aid", by Linda K. Harris, Philadelphia Enquirer, March 25, 2004; http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/world/8273865.htm?1c

[8] "Diebold Wines and Dines Officials", by David Corn, blog in The Nation, August 26, 2004; http://www.thenation.com/blogs/capitalgames?bid=3&pid=1708

[9] "Diebold and the Disabled", by Kim Zetter, Wired News, October 12, 2004; http://wired-vig.wired.com/news/evote/0,2645,65292,00.html

[10] "ITAA Warns Purchase Delays will Endanger HAVA Compliance", Press Release, Information Technology Association of America, May 26, 2005; http://www.itaa.org/eweb/Dynamicpage.aspx?webcode=PRTemplate&wps_key=44e3eb88-23bf-43b1-be43-55b99ccdfcff

[11] "Voting system change in Dade likely", by Noaki Schwartz And Tere Figueras Negrete, Miami Herald, May 28, 2005; http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/11759284.htm

*************

John Gideon
Information Manager
www.VotersUnite.Org and www.VoteTrustUSA.Org

VotersUnite! is a national non-partisan organization dedicated to fair and accurate elections. It focuses on distributing well-researched information to elections officials, elected officials, the media, and the public; as well as providing activists with information they need to work toward transparent elections in their communities.

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