Ethics reforms urged for election industry

Recommendations come as voting machine vendors wine and dine elections officials at national conference

Common Cause on Thursday recommended some basic ethics rules for elections officials and voting machine vendors aimed at bringing more accountability and transparency to the industry.

Suggestions included the establishment of a gift ban for elections officials, a one-year lag time before an election official can take a lucrative job in the election industry, and requiring that vendors adhere to non-partisan policies and practices.

The recommended reforms come as elections officials gather in Washington DC for a four-day conference at which voting machine vendors were throwing elaborate parties for them, including a dinner cruise on the Potomac River.

“As Election Day approaches amid serious concerns that our nation’s voting system has not been fixed since the debacle in 2000, the spectacle of elections officials sailing down the Potomac on a dinner cruise sponsored by voting machine vendors sends the wrong message to voters,” said Common Cause President Chellie Pingree. “Voting machine manufacturers should get off the boat and back to the business of making sure our votes are counted accurately.”

The Election Center’s national conference comes as many Americans believe voting machine manufacturers and some elections officials have rushed to develop and put in place touch-screen voting machines without sufficient regard for reliability, security and basic principles of transparency and accountability. A business-as-usual manner, careless procedures, and overtly partisan activity by some vendor executives have exacerbated voters’ alarm about the new machines.

In March, the Elections Center, a non-profit association of election and voter registration officials, acknowledged taking large donations from voting machine vendors.

“There should be more openness and accountability for companies who want to be in this market,” Pingree said. “This is a business that requires a different attitude, different practices.”

Common Cause recommended the following:

Shut the revolving door that allows elections officials to leave public service and immediately take lucrative jobs with the elections industry. At the very least, there should be a one-year “cooling-off” period after the officials resigns their position.

Establish a strict ban on gifts of any kind, including meals, travel and lodging. The sight of elections officials being wined and dined by voting machine vendors undermines voters’ confidence that fair decisions are being made about the technology of voting.

Require comprehensive financial disclosure requirements for elections officials.

Establish strict rules for the contracting process to ensure openness and competitiveness.

Require vendors to adhere to strict nonpartisan policies and practices. They should avoid the appearance of “taking sides” in elections.

Require the hardware and software that Americans use to cast and count votes be open to the public. Until the 2000 election, most Americans took the mechanics of voting for granted. Elections officials and vendors can no longer keep this part of the voting process hidden from the public.