The Charleston Gasette, West Virginina

December 26, 2009


Voting machine maker faces federal hearings

Kanawha commissioner also asks AG to investigate


By Paul J. Nyden

Staff writer


CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The company that makes the electronic voting machines used in many states, including West Virginia, will be the focus of congressional hearings next month.


Fourteen states and the U.S. Department of Justice have opened investigations into whether Election Systems & Software owns too much of the voting machine market nationally.


On Sept. 1, Omaha, Neb.-based ES&S bought Diebold Inc.'s voting machine business, giving ES&S 70 percent of the national market.


States with their own investigations into the growing ES&S monopoly are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Washington. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., plans to hold the congressional hearings.


"What will happen tomorrow and over the next few years to the cost of maintaining and improving the machines, especially when the company has almost a total monopoly?" asked Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper, a longtime critic of ES&S.


ES&S officials did not return telephone messages last week.


During the 2008 elections, ES&S voting machines generated controversies in several West Virginia counties, including Kanawha County.


At the time, 14 voters from Berkeley, Greenbrier, Jackson, Monongalia, Ohio and Putnam counties told The Charleston Gazette that ES&S machines switched their votes from Democratic to Republican candidates.


Carper and other public officials began questioning the accuracy of ES&S voting machines. Critics also questioned the lack of any paper trail of how voters cast their ballots.


In the 2008 elections, Kanawha County used "optical scan" voting machines, where each voter filled out a paper ballot, then scanned the ballot into a voting machine. Carper still prefers that method, because all those paper ballots were saved.


But most West Virginia counties used electronic voting machines where people cast votes by touching computer screens.


"I am not so much questioning the machines as the monopoly control ES&S will have over election systems," Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said last week.


"All our optical scans or electronic machines are purchased from ES&S. I am the watchdog to make sure we put ES&S' feet to the fire to make sure we get the service we deserve."


Diebold produces and operates a variety of electronic machines, including ATMs, Tennant said. She said Diebold's elections division, called Premier, was a small part of the company when it was sold to ES&S earlier this year.


Last week, Carper said he is more confident in the electronic machines today.


"We were originally very concerned about the touch screens. The first machines used in West Virginia did not have a paper trail and they were not properly tested. I am now more comfortable with the touch-screen machines and we will use them for early voting in Kanawha County.


"But I am still concerned that one vendor has a monopoly," Carper said. "Millions of dollars in taxpayer money has been spent in West Virginia."


Last week, Carper sent a letter to Attorney General Darrell V. McGraw requesting an "investigation into ES&S being awarded a contract that created a monopoly and has held the State of West Virginia as a hostage." McGraw has not yet responded.


Reach Paul J. Nyden at or 304-348-5164.