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Of course we're Fair and Balanced!


Election officials' conflicts of interest

The New York Times had a worthwhile editorial yesterday on the question of electronic voting machines' reliability [thanks to Dave Farber's IP list]:

... At a hearing this spring, officials from Georgia, California and Texas dismissed concerns about electronic voting, and argued that voter-verifiable paper trails, which voters can check to ensure their vote was correctly recorded, are impractical. The Election Center, which does election training and policy work, and whose board is dominated by state and local election officials, says the real problem is people who "scare voters and public officials with claims that the voting equipment and/or its software can be manipulated to change the outcome of elections."

What election officials do not mention, however, are the close ties they have to the voting machine industry. A disturbing number end up working for voting machine companies. When Bill Jones left office as California's secretary of state in 2003, he quickly became a consultant to Sequoia Voting Systems. His assistant secretary of state took a full-time job there. Former secretaries of state from Florida and Georgia have signed on as lobbyists for Election Systems and Software and Diebold Election Systems. The list goes on.

Even while in office, many election officials are happy to accept voting machine companies' largess. The Election Center takes money from Diebold and other machine companies, though it will not say how much. At the center's national conference last month, the companies underwrote meals and a dinner cruise.

Somehow I doubt that this problem extends to New Hampshire:

The technology troubles that could bedevil elections this year in California, Georgia, Florida and elsewhere were absent in New Hampshire this week [in the 2004 primary election]. That's because it is among the few states that require a paper record for every ballot cast.

New Hampshire's relatively low-tech system -- adopted after disasters with both antiquated punch cards and touch-screen computers -- could become a nationwide model as scrutiny over electronic voting grows.

"Maybe people elsewhere trust machines more than they trust humans, but that would be totally out of the question here," said Secretary of State Bill Gardner, one of the longest-serving elections officials in the country. "I'm aghast that other places are considering touch-screen computers."...

"People in other states talk about the unbelievable burden of recounts," said Anthony Stevens, New Hampshire's assistant secretary of state. "They don't realize the cost of restoring legitimacy is far greater than the cost of maintaining it."

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