Sale would give one voting machine company most of US market

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  • Dale Eisman

Common Cause is raising concerns over the proposed sale of Diebold’s voting systems division to its largest competitor in a move that could give the combined voting machine company as much as 70 percent of the voting systems market. Common Cause is urging the Justice Department to do a thorough review of the proposed deal.

“One company dominating the voting machine market raises concerns about reliability and election fraud issues, and also means it will be harder for election officials to negotiate for voting systems on a limited budget,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “It is in the public’s interest to have more competition and diversity among voting machine manufacturers, not less.”

Earlier this month, Ohio-based Diebold announced it was selling its voting systems division, Premier Voting Solutions, to its largest competitor Election Systems & Software (ES&S), based in Nebraska.

A competing voting-systems manufacturer, Hart InterCivic, sued in response to the proposed merger, saying the deal would give ES&S control over voting systems used in 70 percent of the precincts nationwide and create an illegal monopoly. Hart InterCivic is seeking an injunction in federal court in Delaware to block the sale.

In some states such as Ohio, the merger would reportedly make ES&S the sole provider of touch-screen or optical-scan voting systems in nearly every precinct in the state.

“Not only is this level of market dominance bad for competition possibly leading to higher prices for taxpayers, it also consolidates control of voting system technology making potential security or software problems more widespread,” Edgar said.

Diebold and ES&S have been criticized by election officials and experts for dramatically increasing prices for aftermarket service and equipment and misrepresenting the capabilities or certification status of their systems. In January 2008, Clerk of Hancock County, IL requested the U.S. Department of Justice investigate ES&S for increasing costs nearly four-fold in six years. The same month, ES&S settled a lawsuit with the City of San Francisco for $3.5 million for selling and servicing voting systems to the city and county that were not certified by the state.

Premier has also had its share of problems with the performance of its machines. Last year, the Ohio Secretary of State sued the company after votes in at least 11 counties appeared to have been “dropped” by touch-screen machines provided by Premier.

Common Cause is urging the Justice Department’s anti-trust division to look at the proposed merger based on concerns about anti-competitiveness. Click here to read the letter.