Report — From the November 2012 issue

How to Rig an Election

The G.O.P. aims to paint the country red

( 5 of 10 )

The sheer unreliability of this new technology is only half the problem. The other half is a series of mergers and acquisitions that have further centralized the voting-machine industry over the past decade or so. Election Day is now dominated by a handful of secretive corporations with interlocking ownership, strong partisan ties to the far right, and executives who revolve among them like beans in a shell game.

Bob and Todd Urosevich are hardly household names. Yet the two brothers have succeeded in monopolizing American election technology for decades through a pair of supposedly competing corporations: the Ohio-based Diebold and the Nebraska-based ES&S. The latter was founded by the Urosevich brothers in 1979 and is headquartered in Omaha, where it has an Ayn Rand–flavored corporate address on John Galt Boulevard. It is also, let us recall, the same company that may have won Chuck Hagel his Senate seat.

Diebold became the most infamous name in the industry in 2003, when its CEO, Walden O’Dell, a top fund-raiser for George W. Bush, made a jaw-dropping public promise to “deliver” Ohio’s electoral votes to Bush. The following year, California banned Diebold’s touchscreen system, and Secretary of State Kevin Shelley blasted the company as “fraudulent,” “despicable,” and “deceitful.” O’Dell stepped down in 2005, right before the filing of a class-action suit that accused Diebold of fraud, insider trading, and slipshod quality control.

Concerned about its tarnished brand, the company removed its label from the front of voting machines. Then Diebold went one step further and changed the name of its voting-machine division to Premier Election Solutions.

In 2009, Diebold, which makes ATMs and other security systems, got out of the elections business altogether, selling Premier to ES&S. Here was a windfall for the Urosevich brothers in more than one sense: Bob had decamped to Diebold in 2002, when the company bought Global Election Systems, where he then served as president. Todd, meanwhile, remained at ES&S. This cozy arrangement was disrupted by a Justice Department antitrust intervention, which forced ES&S to split ownership of Premier with Dominion, the next big name in election technology. A month later, the deck was shuffled once again with Dominion’s purchase of Sequoia.[1]

[1] At the time of the purchase, Dominion absorbed some key staffers from Sequoia, among them Edwin B. Smith, who now serves as Dominion’s vice president of certification and compliance. In 2008, Smith threatened legal action against two computer scientists hired by an association of New Jersey election clerks to examine malfunctioning Sequoia touchscreen machines. The following year, in a farcical conflict of interest, he was appointed to the EAC’s Technical Guidelines Development Committee, which helps determine which specific voting machines should be certified for use.

Between them, Dominion and ES&S now count the majority of American ballots. There are, of course, newer technologies in development, including Web-based voting. This latest innovation is being peddled by the Spanish-owned Scytl, which named Bob Urosevich managing director of its Americas division in 2006.

One would think (or hope) that a private industry entrusted with America’s votes would require the highest degree of personal integrity from its employees. As it happens, many of the key staffers behind our major voting-machine companies have been accused or convicted of a dizzying array of white-collar crimes, including conspiracy, bribery, bid rigging, computer fraud, tax fraud, stock fraud, mail fraud, extortion, and drug trafficking.

In 2001, for example, a grand jury indicted Philip Foster, Sequoia’s southern regional sales manager, for malfeasance and conspiring to launder money. During the previous decade, he had facilitated a kickback scheme that funneled payments to a Louisiana elections official, who purchased Sequoia equipment while winking at millions of dollars in overcharges. The scheme, which also involved Foster’s brother-in-law and fellow Sequoia employee David Philpot, was hardly an advertisement for the company. Yet Foster, who gained immunity for his testimony against the elections official, not only avoided jail time but was promoted to vice president of sales administration and strategies at Sequoia.

One high achiever actually got his start in prison. Jeffrey Dean’s vote-by-mail software—developed while Dean was serving a sentence for twenty-three counts of embezzlement—came to dominate the U.S. absentee-voting market. Once out of prison, Dean launched his own ballot-printing company with narcotics trafficker John Elder. They later sold it to Global Election Systems, where, readers will recall, Bob Urosevich served as president and COO, before the company was sold to Diebold.

This leads us to a crazy-making realization. Although many felons (and prior felons) can’t cast a ballot in America—an estimated 6 million citizens will be disenfranchised in 2012 due to felony convictions—these particular felons are apparently free to design and manage our entire elections industry.

is a writer and election-integrity activist living in Mexico.

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