Election system attracts criticism, concerns voters

Staff writer

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to honor the memory of Diebold Election Systems Inc., which passed away last week. But, we’re here to bury Diebold Election Systems, not the news, so here it is: on Aug. 16 Diebold Election Systems changed its name to Premier Election Solutions.

“The change to Premier signals a new beginning for the company, emphasizing Premier’s leadership position and proven expertise in election solutions,” according to the company’s press release announcing the re-labeling, available on their website.

The name change comes after Diebold’s failure to unload the elections unit on some other poor saps. Since the company’s founding, it has attracted criticism and controversy regarding business practices and the security and reliability of its voting machines. CEO Wally O’Dell (who in 2003 received criticism for declaring his intention to “deliver” Ohio’s electoral votes to George W. Bush) resigned in late 2005 just days after news surfaced that the company was facing security fraud litigation relating to allegations of insider trading.

It had been speculated that Diebold was trying to sell off that branch of the business and they finally confirmed it earlier this month. The Associated Press said the company lowered its revenue outlook this year by $120 million.

That is the business lesson for the day: if a venture of yours loses credibility and starts to tank, give it a new name, something that inspires confidence, like “premier.” A change like that could do wonders for Lindsay Lohan’s career. Who wouldn’t buy a ticket for a movie starring someone named “Stable Competent?”

Before celebrating this new life, let’s pause to reflect on the tragically short although full and eventful existence of Diebold Election Systems, with particular attention paid to the flurry of activity in recent months.

Diebold Election Systems Inc. (DESI) was born in 2002, the offspring of Diebold Inc., a security systems company, after it acquired Texas-based Global Election Systems. Diebold has a history stemming from the 1800s of manufacturing and selling security products.

Diebold’s elections unit received its first major criticism in relation to the company’s involvement in the 2004 presidential election. Two companies were responsible for accounting for 80 percent of the votes cast: DESI, and Omaha-based Election Systems and Software. Considering the extensive scope of DESI’s role in the election, serious concerns were raised about the reliability of the company’s voting machines. One area of concern was the lack of paper receipts from ballots with the touch-screen machines, while electronic engineers and security specialists warned of gaping holes in the machines’ security features.

Earlier this month the California secretary of state had decertified three voting systems, including Diebold. According to the L.A. Times, studies determined the machines could be hacked and are removed from use in state elections, unless extra security precautions are taken.

This is hardly unprecedented. Before the 2004 presidential election the state of California banned 15,000 Diebold touch-screen machines from being used in the election. An ABC News article published Oct. 27 of that year cited officials’ reporting  “serious flaws with the machines and that Diebold repeatedly misled the state about them.”

This past week held even more unflattering press for Diebold. The story never would have come to light if not for the efforts of Virgil Griffith, a computer science graduate student at the California Institute of Technology.

By now any American college student should be well acquainted with Wikipedia, the self-regulating online encyclopedia, and grand democratic experiment that can be accessed and edited by anyone. Changes to the site can be made as a registered user or anonymously. Griffith created a program he calls Wikipedia Scanner that cross-references the IP addresses of anonymous Wikipedia editors with the IP addresses of corporations and other organizations. Griffith discovered that companies and groups were quite keen on making self-serving Wikipedia edits. And among the most dedicated of these do-it-yourself P.R. practitioners was Diebold Inc.

Someone logging on to Wikipedia from Diebold’s IP address made selective edits to the company’s entry. The Diebold users deleted 15 paragraphs from the Wikipedia entry, removing information such as its chief executive’s fundraising contributions to President Bush and charges that the 2000 presidential election was “rigged”, according to a Newsday article.

I eagerly await the final verdict of Diebold/Premier’s wager. Their hypothesis is essentially that the American public at large is dumb and complacent enough to ignore an entire corporate lifetime of embarrassing failure and flagrant malfeasance because of the mesmerizing influence of a name change and a flashy new logo.

But, I bet it could do wonders for Lindsay Lohan’s career.