Cast Your Vote For New Voting Machine

By eweek  |  Posted 2001-01-15

What bugs me about Microsoft, Dell and Unisys teaming up to invent a more perfect voting process is that top executives at the first two companies either aligned themselves with a presidential candidate or hinted strongly as to their preference. Its no secret Dell CEO Michael Dell supported President-elect Bush. And Microsoft executives, disenchanted with the Clinton administrations aggressive antitrust pursuit, seemingly welcome Bush as someone who will be able to pull off the Justice Departments junkyard dogs.

Somewhere in the voting process—from registration to reporting—there will be Dell servers and Microsoft software. Im sure there already are. But a voting machine burnished with either Dells or Microsofts name strikes me as too close for comfort. Give me the 100-year-old "Myers automatic booth" because I figure Myers must be dead by now, meaning he cant vote—unless, of course, hes from Chicago.

Clearly, there is room for improvement in the lever voting machine, but many experts consider it more reliable than the punch-card technology of chad and dimple fame developed in the 1950s.

Occurring as they do so soon after this unprecedented election, the Unisys, Dell and Microsoft deals strike me as cheap exploitation of the painful and divisive debacle that just took place in Florida.

Its also putting the cart before the horse. Let the Federal Election Commission, with representatives from the states, define new voting requirements and award the contract to a company offering the best solution, just as the Department of Defense would contract out the assembly of a jet fighter.

Of course, this shows my ignorance because the states and municipalities run the voting process, not the Feds. But doesnt it make sense to have a uniform and reliable means of voting at every level of government, regardless of which level oversees the process?

The Unisys announcement trumpets Microsofts and Dells participation in the project. Dells qualifications, say the Unisys press releases, are that it sells computers to the government, but IBM and HP have been at it for a darn sight longer.

Steve Hagan, practice director at Unisys e-@ction election solutions, says politics played no role in the companys decision to announce now. "We need to improve the voting experience. I cant say that [politics] entered into it," he said, adding that Unsisys has built voting systems in Brazil, Rome and Minnesota, the latter of which permits voting over the Internet.

My objection to this announcement is not that the trio couldnt improve on what we have today. Nor is it that these companies would corrupt the voting process.

What bothers me is that companies with more than a passing interest in who is president are so quickly trying to cash in on the botched election when the sting of its questionable outcome remains so sharp. ´

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