Advocates warn of voting-machine ‘monopoly’

More than 120 million voters will now use ES&S voting equipment.
More than 120 million voters will now use ES&S voting equipment.

Some educators and activists say the recent consolidation of electronic voting machine ownership in the United States creates a potentially dangerous monopoly, and without greater accountability to voters, they worry that education-related elections that usually have low turnout could be especially affected.

Election Systems & Software (ES&S), the country’s largest voting machine vendor, announced last week the purchase of voting machines from a subsidiary of Diebold Inc., its closest competitor.

ES&S now owns more than 70 percent of the electronic voting equipment in the United States. That means 120 million registered voters will use ES&S machines, while 26 million voters will use equipment from the next-closest provider, Sequoia Voting Systems, according to nonprofit organization Verified Voting.

Advocacy group Voter Action said in a letter to the Justice Department this week that the sale of Diebold’s voting equipment to its one-time competitor creates a monopoly and constitutes a violation of federal antitrust laws.

“The ES&S/Premier acquisition is absolutely unique in its potential for disturbing U.S. election processes and results,” Voter Action said in its letter to the Justice Department.

John Bonifaz, legal director for Voter Action, said “there should be a worry for any candidate for public office” now that one company owns nearly three-quarters of the nation’s voting equipment.

“The fear is that there would be no competition–[and] therefore no accountability and transparency,” Bonifaz added.

Experts said the complexity of local school board races–which often involve many candidates and draw a lower voter turnout than other, more highly publicized races–could make K-12 education particularly susceptible to any voting machine irregularities. But colleges and universities also could be affected in cases where there are education-related ballot referenda.

Denny Carter

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