Proposed election methods more than dubious

In the past two months, word has spread that members of the military will be allowed to fax or e-mail their votes to the Defense Department. The catch: Soldiers must first waive their right to a secret ballot.

The company making this particular bit of electoral magic happen is Omega Technologies, a private contractor with the Department of Defense. In the process of delivering votes to the proper local officials, there are several points where the ballot’s contents could be compromised. Topping off this rotten plan is the little fact that Omega’s CEO is a big-time Republican contributor and even sits on the Republican Congressional Committee’s Business Advisory Council.

This snug little liaison is no exception in the arena of electoral politics, where interest groups, private companies and government agencies all come together for an orgy wherein the only people getting screwed are the voters.

Diebold, the largest distributor of electronic voting machines in the country, stands to profit the most from the move to e-voting in response to the Florida fiasco. Not surprisingly, Diebold is entangled in more questionable relationships than all of the other agencies and companies combined.

After all, Omega’s chief executive was just doing a poor imitation of Diebold CEO Walden O’Dell, who hosted a $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser for Republicans last year. The invitation to the fund-raiser came with a lovely note, stating how “committed (he is) to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.” It’s nice to know that the machines will at least work for some people. (The various security holes, problems and questionable policies surrounding Diebold’s machines have been well documented in this column and in other publications.)

According to Wired, Diebold banned its employees from making political contributions starting in June. Don’t be too down, though, because Diebold’s money isn’t out of the political circuit entirely, thanks to disability-rights lobbying groups.

One of the major problems with e-voting, security issues aside, is the lack of a paper trail: There are no receipts for voters or poll operators. Naturally, people aren’t exactly thrilled with this, thanks to their natural fear of new technology, which in this case is well founded.

While legislators around the country are working to make receipts required by law, Diebold is fighting this with all its lobbying power, and using the usually progressive disability lobby to help.

The National Federation of the Blind is convinced that focusing on paper trails will hamper its drive to make the new machines accessible to the handicapped. It is also convinced of the machines’ security and reliability, because it has certified Diebold’s machines to be secure, reliable and accessible. Diebold proceeded to certify that the $1 million it gave the federation was a free gift.

According to The New York Times, last year the American Association of People with Disabilities gave its “Justice for All” award to Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd, an opponent of paper trails, for his role in the passage of the Help America Vote Act. Dodd then turned around and named the disability group’s Jim Dickson, another opponent of voting receipts, to the board of advisers of the Election Assistance Committee, where he will have considerable influence on the use of paper trails. Apparently short on cash from the donation to the NFB, Diebold and other voting companies could only give this group $26,000 last year.

Finally, leaked Diebold memos revealed that the company knew about the flaws in its machines for years and did nothing about it. Diebold, the tech industry and the government have all come together to make sure that such accidents will never happen again.

According to, with the wonder of Trusted Computing, Diebold could use a word processor that forces users to indicate that they have authorization to view their internal documents and memoranda about their machines. The only way to view the document then would be to, using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, circumvent the copyright protection. Doing so would cause said legislation to slam down on the user like a hammer, allowing Diebold to keep secrets safe by suing those who expose their dirty tricks and keeping the public safely in the dark.

Butterfly ballots suddenly aren’t looking so bad.

Matt Buchanan, Washington Square News, New York University