“As we approach the 2008 general election, the structure of elections in the United States — once reliant on local representatives accountable to the public — has become almost wholly dependent on large corporations, which are not accountable to the public,” states a report released today by VotersUnite.Org, entitled “Vendors Are Undermining the Structure of U.S. Elections.”
The report — based on interviews with state and local election officials, news reports, reports from governmental agencies, vendor contracts, and other public documents — focuses on the pervasive control a handful of voting system vendors exercise over election administration in almost every state and how officials and ordinary citizens can strengthen public control before this year’s election.
While local election officials across the country are legally accountable for election administration, decisions at the federal and state level have rendered most of these hardworking public servants unable to administer elections without the equipment, services, and trade-secret software of a small number of corporations, whose contracts disclaim all accountability.
Case studies of local jurisdictions show a sampling of the difficulties this double bind causes for state and local officials and illustrate some of the ways in which vendors exploit the situation.
The report explores how federal and state governments have facilitated vendor-dependency and examines the major vendors’ histories, which reveal case after case of unethical and even illegal behavior.
“Entrusting our elections — and thus our democracy — to private corporations would be reckless, even if they had proven track records of competence, integrity, and ethical behavior,” Theisen said. “But entrusting our elections to these corporations is beyond reckless; it is courting disaster.”
The report also profiles several election officials who have resisted vendor-dependency. Oklahoma and, more recently, Oregon offer concrete examples of how states can significantly reduce their dependence on private vendors. According to Theisen, local officials can take back more control than many of them may realize, and in time for the 2008 general election.
County Director of Elections Leonard Piazza said the report validates the hard work of people in his office to know the system and not be dependent on outside help. “This particular report truly underscores some of the most important work we’ve be able to accomplish together as a county — hard work that has saved county taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said.
“Even where elections are virtually run by vendors — and there are many such places,” Theisen said, “local officials have the authority to monitor, and expect answers from, vendor technicians who are doing the work.”
“After all,” Theisen added, “the vendor is paid with taxpayer dollars, and answerable to, the election director.”
The final section of the report gives practical advice to election officials, recommending specific steps they can take to increase their control over the elections for which they are accountable. It also recommends actions private citizens can take to assist local officials in overseeing the vendors.