Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Dan Rather Reveals Troubling Practices By Nebraska Vote-Counters ES&S

by Kyle Michaelis
Having moved online to pursue the kind of investigative reporting that no longer has a home on TV news, longtime CBS anchorman Dan Rather has just struck a devastating blow to Election Systems & Software (ES&S), an Omaha-based company specializing in vote counting technology and overseeing elections.

Last fall, I challenged the Omaha World-Herald's biased coverage of ES&S' failures in the 2006 elections, while taking issue with the World-Herald's ownership of a significant stake in ES&S. But, nothing then reported was so damning as Rather's new report, The Trouble with Touch Screens, which should be viewed by absolutely anyone concerned with the integrity of our elections and our democracy.

Rather's hour-long report spends the first 30 minutes focusing almost exclusively on the shoddy manufacturing of ES&S' Touch Screen voting machines, which became all the rage after federal tax dollars were sent to the states through the Help America Vote Act to purchase tens of millions of dollars worth of such machines in response to the supposed failures of more traditional practices in the 2000 Florida presidential election. Rather makes a convincing case that the rush to embrace these new technologies might actually have created more problems than it solved, using the 2006 Congressional race in Florida's 13th District where ES&S machines showed very high rates of failure to set the tone for the entire report.

Of ES&S' manufacturing, Rather uncovers terrible work conditions and almost no quality control with overseas workers in the Philippines paid as little as $2.15 a day. There are also suggestions that ES&S is tied in with a corrupt Filipino family and that they knowingly used touch screens with obvious material defects. In fact, a plant manager estimates that as many as 16,000 defective machines were delivered in the United States.

Perhaps most disturbing for our purposes in Nebraska - where the Omaha World-Herald is so dominant a force in the local media - is the documented evidence of ES&S being so much more concerned with avoiding negative publicity than correcting problems with their software and their machines.

The second half-hour of Rather's report is just as thought-provoking and scary, looking back at the circumstances of the 2000 election to advance a plausible theory of intentional sabotage by the vote machine industry to force adoption of new and more expensive technology.

Again, I strongly urge readers to watch Rather's full report. It is sad that the Omaha World-Herald does not offer this sort of investigative reporting in its own pages. What's even sadder is that they continue to own so questionable a stake in ES&S, leaving open the possibility that their journalistic complacency is actually corporate-dictated journalistic corruption.

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