In 2001, security giant Diebold bought its elections division for $31 million. Today, it sold it to a competitor for $5 million. The company said elections had become a "distraction" and now a sad chapter in democracy has closed. Maybe.
The company in question, Premiere Election Solutions, became a constant drag for Diebold after it was revealed that the company's CEO was a major George Bush supporter. As if that weren't bad press enough, it soon became clear that Diebold's machines were easily hacked, a revelation that led some local election commissions to ban the machines. Some even accused Diebold of breaking the law, which shouldn't really come as much of a surprise.
With the controversy swirling about them, Diebold executives decided to distance themselves from Premiere Election Solutions. And now this sale means the company will no longer play a role in national elections.
Many of Diebold's opponents will cheer this move, but the division's new owner, Election Systems & Software may not be much better. The company, the largest of its kind in the United States, and its products have also been implicated in malfunctions, including the 2004 presidential election. In 2006, three states filed complaints about ES&S machines. The company blamed poll workers, of course, but did end up paying the state of Indiana $775,000 for its troubles.
The most politically-alarming incident was way back in 1996, when Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel won 56% of the vote in an election that many thought he would lose. It was later revealed that Hagel was once the CEO of American Information Systems Inc., which would later rename itself Election Systems & Software and produced a majority of the machines that led to Hagel's big win. Not a very reassuring coincidence.
Thus, the virtual shadow hanging over American elections has simply shifted, not dissipated. As for Diebold's election career, it will continue in Brazil, where it supplies machines for the national elections. Those poor saps.