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Revolving Doors And Regulatory Capture Are Ensuring E-Voting Remains An Insecure Mess

Revolving Doors And Regulatory Capture Are Ensuring E-Voting Remains An Insecure Mess

(Mis)Uses of Technology

from the we're-from-the-government-and-we're-here-to-secure-corporate-boardroom-p dept

Despite the long list of bad news generated by electronic voting machines, their market share only continues to grow. Rather than consider them the attack vectors they are, state and county legislators have decided to toss caution and paper ballots to the wind. The future is now. And it's riddled with vulnerabilities.

Maybe there shouldn't be a rush to digitize the democratic process, at least not while manufacturers are still shipping machines pre-loaded with security flaws and inadequate software. The push for e-voting machine deployment isn't organic, of course. It's an organized push that starts with the machines' manufacturers and ends in regulatory capture.

Sue Halpern has exposed the paper trail connect voting machine manufacturers to ill-advised rollouts in her article for the New Yorker. The heaviest pushes target legislatures that make purchasing calls for the entire state. Most states allow the decision to be made at the county level, which decreases the chance the entire state will be affected by voting machine hacking or malfunctions. But in states like Georgia and Delaware, a successful pitch to the state legislature can mean hundreds of millions of dollars in sales.

The pay-for-play begins in the usual way: paid junkets that take state advisory boards to major cities for the usual wine/dine/schmooze-fests with all expenses paid. An investigation by McClatchy showed the Governor Brian Kemp's chief of staff, David Dove, attended an event held by voting machine manufacturer ES&S (Election Systems & Software) -- timed impeccably to capture the state's $100 million voting machine market. To the surprise of no one, the state's election commission decided to award ES&S this contract. But it had to do so over the voices of non-purchased stakeholders who saw nothing good in replacing one faulty e-voting machine with a similarly faulty product.

In doing so, the panel rejected the advice of computer scientists and election-integrity advocates, who consider hand-marked ballots to be the “most reliable record of voter intent,” and also the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which recommended that all states adopt paper ballots and conduct post-election audits.

This continued the proud Georgia tradition of voting machine vendor cross-pollination in the state legislature, which kicked off almost a two decades ago. In 2002, Diebold secured a $54 million contract to provide the state with voting machines. Diebold's lobbyist was a former Georgia state official. When problems developed, ES&S stepped in, killing off legislation addressing election integrity issues and capturing a very key demographic.

In 2006, a bill requiring a verifiable paper record of each ballot, introduced in the Georgia legislature at the urging of election-integrity advocates, failed after the state’s elections director, Kathy Rogers, opposed it. Rogers, of course, later went to work for E.S. & S.

Another legislator took an extended trip through the lawmaker/lobbyist revolving door. Charles Harper went from sod farmer to state rep to lobbyist for ES&S before ending up as the deputy chief of staff in Governor Brian Kemp's office. Brian Kemp, of course, spent the last election hastily patching voting machine vulnerabilities following the exposure of flaws, blaming the Democratic Party for the alleged hack, doxxing absentee voters, and, finally, overseeing voting integrity operations of an election he participated in.

Congress has tried to fix this problem… multiple times. It opened this year's session with a 571-page bill full of reforms and paper ballot mandates. The problem is previous attempts to install these reforms have failed after receiving pushback from state officials. Voting machine vendors are focusing on states and counties, where the decisions (and purchases) are made. And it's working.

Last year, the Democratic congressman Bennie Thompson, of Mississippi, proposed the Election Security Act; a year before, the Republican Mark Meadows, the chair of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, introduced the Paper Act, which was endorsed by the former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and by Grover Norquist, the president of the conservative organization Americans for Tax Reform. The Senate’s attempt to reform election practices, last year’s Secure Elections Act, had bipartisan support, too, but was killed by the White House before it got out of committee.

You can't remove money from politics and you can't banish lobbyists from petitioning on the behalf of the causes and corporations they represent. But you can oust politicians who prefer corporations to constituents. Changes can be made and it all starts with those who serve their own interests rather than the public's. Shining a light on regulatory capture is the first step.

Filed Under: brian kemp, e-voting, georgia, lobbying, regulatory capture

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