E-voting PR

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Electronic voting was promoted as a solution to the 2000 election debacle. The Help America Vote Act required polling places to have "at least one direct recording electronic voting system or other voting system equipped for individuals with disabilities." [1]

Profits trump public interest

This sudden creation of a large potential market pressures companies to put their profits ahead of the interests of the American public. One internal email from Diebold Election Systems, which had sold $73 million in machines to Maryland before a rash of articles called for the machines to be modified to provide a paper print-out verifying each vote, read: "There is an important point that seems to be missed by all these articles: they already bought the system. At this point they are just closing the barn door. Let's just hope that as a company we are smart enough to charge out the yin if they try to change the rules now and legislate voter receipts." [2]

Lobbying efforts

Voting machine companies are heavily lobbying state officials in order to influence their choice of voting systems. In order to increase their chances of landing the substantial, $3.7 billion New York state contract, Sequoia Voting Systems hired two lobbying firms - a Republican firm headed by a legal consultant to the state Republican Committee who provided counsel to Republican Governor Pataki's 2002 campaign, and the well-known Democratic firm O'Dwyer & Bernstein. Diebold and Election Systems and Software (ES&S) also hired lobbying firms with significant ties to current state office holders, according to Eric Lipton's October 2003 New York Times report. In California, the former state elections chief has been hired by Sequoia as a consultant, as reported by the Los Angeles Times in November 2003. These corporate/political connections have increased concerns that the security and reliability of the voting systems will not be the major determinants in how new voting machines are selected.

PR response to public criticism

As public criticism of electronic voting increased, Wired News reported that e-voting companies were responding to "concerns raised about security flaws in electronic voting systems" with a "public relations and lobbying campaign to help voting companies 'repair short-term damage done by negative reports and media coverage.'"[3]

The high-tech industry lobbying and trade group Information Technology Association Of America submitted its ITAA eVoting Industry Coalition DRAFT Plan to e-voting machine companies. The plan included a media campaign to "generate positive public perception" of e-voting companies and to "reduce substantially the level and amount of criticism from computer scientists and other security experts about the fallibility of electronic voting systems." ITAA's Enterprise Solutions director, Michael Kerr, developed the PR plan shortly after Johns Hopkins computer scientist Avi Rubin's critical report on e-voting machines was released. ITAA offered to conduct a PR campaign on behalf of e-voting machine manufacturers, along the lines of Kerr's plan, for a fee of $100,000 to $200,000 per company.[4] In December 2003, ITAA also announced the formation of the Election Technology Council and enthused, "We look forward to working with the members of the ETC to help this industry find its collective voice and to bring the benefits of electronic voting to every citizen."[5]

Kerr maintains that the e-voting PR plan was "nothing unusual" and that it contained a recommendation to adopt an industry-wide code of ethics. The marketing director for the e-voting machine manufacturer Hart InterCivic, Bill Stotesbery, also expressed surprise at criticisms of the plan: "The notion of companies working together in an association to work on standards and communicate on issues like security, to try to shape best practices, is nothing new."[6]

PR problem or technology problem?

Stanford University computer science professor David Dill responded to news of the ITAA plan by countering: "The voting machine industry doesn't have a PR problem. It has a technology problem." Instead of launching a PR campaign, the companies should be "making the voting process transparent, improving certification standards for the equipment and [ensuring] there is some way to do a recount if there is a question about an election," maintained Dill. [7]

Targeting certain states

Other e-voting PR campaigns have been targeted to certain states. On February 25, 2004, O'Dwyer's PR Daily reported that Diebold would launch a five-year, $1 million "outreach campaign" to educate Maryland residents about its voting machines, beginning just prior to Maryland's March 2 primary. The campaign, which is handled by the Florida-based Compliance Research Group, includes radio and TV commercials, a website, more than 1.5 million brochures, and voting demonstrations. Diebold spokesperson David Bear dismissed claims that the campaign is a "PR blitz," explaining that "We found that people are much more acceptable about electronic voting if they get to touch the screen beforehand." It is unclear whether Dix & Eaton, the Diebold company's PR firm, would be involved. [8]

On March 4, 2004, O'Dwyer's PR Daily reported that PR firm "Burson-Marsteller is slated to head a proposed $15.3 million PR and advertising campaign aimed at educating Ohio voters about new voting machines on the horizon. The effort, proposed by Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, would be a massive, state-wide 18-month push leading up to 2006 elections that Blackwell hopes would be a model for the country." The Ohio e-voting campaign will include "media tours, advertising and other efforts like direct mail, paycheck inserts and an 'embedded' media program... Ohio is considered to be a crucial battleground state in this year's presidential election," ends the O'Dwyer's article.

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles


External resources

  • Bev Harris, Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century (Renton, WA: Talion Publishing, 2003)
  • Black Box Voting

External articles