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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  • Nick Zedd

    Another rigged presidential election is imminent and mainstream media is dropping the ball again. Pathetic.

  • Tosheba

    Oh, please, DemocRATS will cheat and blame the GOP.

    • Nathan

      Glad you took the time to refute the staggering number of charges raised in this piece. My faith is restored.

    • axzaxis

      The article is about voting right? Tosheba should check out his up and down votes on this one. The results are in! You Suck!

    • NathanBetzen

      Honestly, who cares if Democrats blame the GOP? Why not take the ability to blame out of the equation and make the machines, the software, and the resulting ballots verifiable? Even if this entire article is crazy person talk, making it possible for the American public trust our own ballots certainly seems like the right thing to do.

      • Trent

        Beautifully stated. The article is certainly claiming Republican responsibility for the issue, so I get the outcries, but the solution has nothing to do with party affiliation. Any American with voting power should have an interest in increasing the transparency of our elections.

    • thixotropic

      The Democrats aren’t the ones who own the voting machine companies with the easily rigged software. The Republicans have the means, motive, and opportunity.

  • Will Wright

    Good story, but this is far from being the first documented story of the problem. What is more concerning to me is that there’s no mention of previous work — off the top of my head, Greg Palast’s “Armed Madhouse” describes vote irregularities and vote stealing in 2000 and 2004, and the story doesn’t even mention it. Palast has another couple of books out on the same topic. And he’s just one writer of many looking at the problem. I hate to say it, but the democracy touted by the US and the one that actually exists in that country are two very different things. The experiment that is the US of A came precariously close to ending in 2008, but it is no less threatened by the badly broken nature of US democracy at the electoral, legislative, and executive levels.

    • thixotropic

      Palast is excellent and has been way out in front on so many issues. For many years now.

  • Seth Strong

    This is a solvable problem. I am a part of software development for casino games. The amount of certification and oversight of our code is intense and in this case folks are trying to make sure we’re not cheating players out of a small chance to win anything. You can have software oversight. There are standards for development AND the software could be publicly reviewable. There’s no reason why it couldn’t.

    • rapido

      And no reason not to use paper ballots, what’s the hurry?

    • Payam Minoofar

      From the get-go, experts were saying that the gaming industry has a fantastic model for verifying every single electronic transaction with 100% reliability and accountability. The fact that so many players in electronic voting are vocal partisans may well explain why accountability has been stripped from electronic voting.

    • Adam Selene

      No reason? But the kind of accountability you suggest would make it harder to rig elections. How’s that for a reason?

    • fumunda

      Yep…and we could at least get a receipt!

    • thixotropic

      Combine the expertise from the gaming industry with open source code in voting machines (made by a completely new company with no political ties) and paper ballots, and you have a good start on cleaning up election theft.

      Transparency at every step of the way will be absolutely key.

      • realist

        You have absolutely no way of knowing whether the code that was released openly is the same code that is actually running on the machines, and on all machines.

        The gaming industry expertise is with the people designing and running the system being considered trusted and incentivized to keep things fair. When you try to prevent election rigging, the expected source of attack is *precisely* from the system designers. That’s a completely incomparable threat model.

        I say with the huge number of esoteric ways things can be rigged, and with the amount of resources some people are willing to spend to rig ‘em – there is absolutely no way to make this process safe and trusted. Paper ballots are conceptually simple and understandable (and therefore controllable) for everyone. Let’s bring them back.

        • RL

          Why of course you can verify that the code on the machine is the same as the open release. It is called code signing. It will verify the code to as great a degree of certainty as your DNA identifies you. I’m all for a good conspiratorial rant, but at least let’s be intellectually honest.

  • my hero

    Open source software, anybody?

  • M

    Surprising to see that there was no mention of Bain funding used to purchase voting machines to be used in what, nine states this election? Magic, isn’t it?

  • J. Archer

    These allegations, if true (they are), are tantamount to high treason and I’m not joking when I say these men should lose their lives for these crimes not to mention their obscene fortunes.

    • David Allan Cole

      And that would Deter future Vote Rigging in a Big Way!!!

  • Scott Mitting
  • Gail Fletcher

    On Friday, Nov.2 [too late for the challenger to disseminate the truth before Election Day] I received a mailer from the local Republican Committee that was so putrid I will never vote for any Republican, ever again. The smear campaign against the challenger perpetrated by the appointed incumbent was the most baseless, defamatory, foul and egregious I

  • Rain,ADustBowlStory

    As was pointed out on Chris Hayes’ show last weekend, one of the effects of Citizens United has been not so much in the realm of direct contributions to campaigns but more in restricting our choice of candidates to those who are bankrolled with corporate money in the beginning.

  • Misha Volf
  • Rand Haerdt

    Retaining the benefit of technological & eletronic voting can be balanced with fair and open transparency. The solution is to make the process COMPLETELY transparent. Here’s some initial ideas:
    - give voters receipts for their votes, which can be used to tally votes later and also be used as election memorabilia. voters who vote and hold a receipt may be incentivized with tax breaks or other discounts by vendors who choose to participate in an open voting campaign sponsored by local / state / federal governments.
    - publish all voting data on a website with the highest levels of security, allow media channels (TV, magazines, newspapers, internet portals) access to this information to maintain an active oversight of voter headcount and elections unfolding.
    - create local / state / federal agencies and institutions for democratic electioneering (engineering election systems). This must be a positive body that seeks to remove all avenues of corruption and maintain careful, democratic oversight of the process.
    - all of these avenues must be overseen rigorously by citizens to maintain democracy. After all, democracy can be maintained, but it takes vigilance and dedication.

  • Chuck Kollars

    It’s quite clear that we in the U.S. have a problem, and also that hardly anybody is paying any attention to it. That was already clear many years ago, and here yet one more voice joins the chorus. It’s a strong and passionate voice …but passion’s no substitute for analysis (or historical context:-). WHY is nobody paying any attention, WHY don’t top party leaders speak out against trickery, and WHAT concrete steps can we take?

  • Insomniac68

    After this country’s well-documented history of corrupt city bosses who controlled every aspect of the political process and of wholesale election day cheating by Democrats throughout the nation, Collier comes up with “research” to show that the real culprits are Republicans who suppress the vote and change the results via new voting technology. Not one allegation of Republican cheating in this article has been proved to be true, but how useful it is to throw the claim out there, to suggest that because some owners of technology companies are Republicans that vote rigging is not only possible, but likely.

    Who was it who pushed unceasingly for the new voting machines we’re now stuck with? Democrats. Look back at all the letters to the editors and the public forums during the pre-HAVA days. Who was it who was demanding the change? Democrats. The charge that Republicans, who I’m sorry to admit are positively backward in the technology department, are now responsible for rigging elections on the new machines is ludicrous. As a few respondents said, oversight, accountability and transparency of these new systems are easy to accomplish. In New York I believe our system has achieved that now.

    Perhaps this piece was put out before Election Day so that Florida 2000-style protests could be waged if Obama lost. After all, the projected low turnout of Democrats was widely seen as a probable cause for a defeat. But that’s not what happened, is it? Perhaps, though, I really ought to consider vote rigging — by Democrats.

  • vermiliondawn
    • vermiliondawn

      The full un-aired 2006 interview with Stephen Spoonamore by former ABC News Producer Rebecca Abrahams: In this interview Spoonamore discusses the shortcomings of Diebold electronic voting machines, the ease with which they can be corrupted and irreglarities in the 2004 Presidential Election.

  • arguethefacts

    In the last day or two Anonymous has said they hacked into voting machines and found rigged software which they nullified. Could this be why Karl Rove was SO certain Ohio was going to go for Romney? His meltdown on Fox News consisted of him saying that it was too early to call Ohio. He was certain it would flip for Romney. Is this why some Republicans were predicting an Electoral Landslide for Romney of 350+ votes? They seemed so smug and certain.

    Do we owe the election to Anonymous disabling the voter flipping software? If so the Republicans can’t complain about it without agreeing that it exists. They are stuck with the election that they were so certain would be Romney’s.

    • Julian

      I had wondered about Rove’s statement about Ohio as well. The expression in his face and eyes told us that he was hiding a secret! Interesting though that they were suppose to be rigged for the right and instead the left won?! That’s another story I’m sure.

      • thixotropic

        It’s actually the same story as 2008, when the servers failed and sent the voting data to SmartTech in TN — they were the man in the middle/KingPin who changed the voter totals. Anonymous apparently stopped this process, and Rove got the surprise of his life… fully televised.

      • thixotropic
      • thixotropic

        It’s actually the same story as 2004, when the servers failed and sent the voting data to SmartTech in TN — they were the man in the middle/KingPin — who changed the voter totals. Anonymous apparently stopped this process, and Rove got the surprise of his life… fully televised.

    • Wryly Fox

      “In the last day or two Anonymous has said they hacked into voting machines and found rigged software which they nullified.”
      Would like to see a link to support this claim. The youtube message I watched says they were watching Rove’s computer system network…not voting machines themselves.

      • thixotropic

        They don’t *need* to watch the voting machines — it’s a man-in-the-middle/Kingpin attack. Classic, simple, and not that hard to interfere with. Republicans tried to pull the same thing they did in 2008, Rove flipped out on TV when it didn’t suddenly give Romney that come-from-behind win, and we all saw it. Anonymous says they’re the ones who stopped it; they’re very good at this, so it’s quite possible they’re telling the truth.

  • Marilyn Noad

    Secret skullduggery is not even necessary these days such is the boldness of the attempts by the GOP to “rig elections”. They simply pass laws in GOP run states by changing the way the electoral votes are allocated.

  • libertyandtyranny

    We need paper ballots, period. And the country, for the most part, leaned conservative up until celebrity globalist Obama pretended to unite the country based on the color of his melanin pigment. Now we are more divided than ever. We must choose sides, because the stakes are so much higher- 16 TRILLION in debt.

  • Spectate Swamp

    Start by rigging the debate forums with planted questions and a full slate of candidates that you want. That lessens the likelyhood of an honest candidate getting elected

  • John Wren
  • thixotropic

    This group has good ideas and concepts with regard to the standards and rules we need to have in place to have real elections:

  • thixotropic

    Mark Crispin Miller has said that he’s approached the few liberals in TV media and they’ve been unwilling to discuss this. Why?

    Of course, given that key witnesses and participants have died suspiciously during investigations into Republican election theft, perhaps they’re simply unwilling to take the chance that they’ll be found dead of “suicide” from two gunshot wounds to the head, as was Gary Webb.

  • thixotropic

    These two links describe the events of 2004 and 2012 and their similarities… except that Rove got the surprise of his life when 2012 didn’t go like 2004… and his reaction was fully televised for us all to see.


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