How the demand for profits sidelined, delayed, and compromised our elections.

  • voting booth on fire
  • voting booth on fire

How the demand for profits sidelined, delayed, and compromised our elections.

by Virginia Hammon | published

931 5 minute read


What does our lack of election trustworthiness have to do with the money system? The money system demands profits over people – even for government spending. This profit priority permeates all our decision-making. It kills doing the right thing when it’s not going to make a profit for some private individual or company. We’ll keep getting delayed and inferior outcomes until we change to a Just Money system that makes the public wellbeing the highest priority. Just Money doesn’t eliminate profits and free enterprise; it balances them with protecting the people from predators with no moral compass.

Like many, I’ve been very worried and mistrustful of our election results since Congress in 2002 passed the Help America Vote Act and allocated $325 million. This law essentially mandated that states install computerized ‘direct-recording devices.’ The for-profit world rushed to create, sell, establish a monopoly, tie municipalities into long-term maintenance contracts, and lock in long-term profits on proprietary software voting machines. They succeeded. The public paid for systems with low standards of integrity and there were too many unverifiable results. Computer scientists and hackers rushed in to show that the machines could easily be hacked, and with no paper trail fraud-free elections could not be assured. We had reports of strange and anomalous results in so many places, it eroded our faith in our election system. Election clerks felt personally attacked for their machine choices and hunkered down to justify them. Many of us have been wondering for years why the election security problem hadn’t risen to loud alarm-bell level.

Nearly 20 years later, we still have three main voting machine providers, that have moved from mostly private Republican ownership to hedge fund ownership. They continue to sell updates of their proprietary, profit-making, insecure machines to the officials they’ve been courting with expense paid trips and other goodies for years. For twenty years I’ve been wondering WHY assuring a voting system with integrity hasn’t been high on everyone’s agenda. Private for- profit ownership requires that shareholder profits be THE most important consideration, so these companies’ incentives lie in proprietary and secret software, not in serving the public at the highest possible level. Seeing the problem with that isn’t difficult.

Benjamin Wofford in the September 2020 issue of WIRED writes a great article, A Texas County Clerk’s Bold Crusade to Transform How We Vote. It is about the chief clerk and election administrator of Travis County, Texas, who since 2002 had been embroiled in the controversy between mathematicians, computer scientists, hackers, and public election officials. By 2011, Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, was determined to get a system, built from scratch that would have a paper trail, an easy-to-use interface, and the greatest security conceivable. She made a pitch for this at one of the nation’s preeminent conference on election technology to a room full of academics, computer scientists, and hacktivists. It was an audience that included people who had been working on that very problem for decades, had solutions, and couldn’t get anyone to take them seriously and put them into action. She was offering her city as a test site.

The mathematicians and computer scientists got very excited. Some had been working on this problem for years and had ideas that they wanted to test out, but no resources to do it. A world class team was assembled for four days and came up with a prototype. They built a prototype and tried it out in a small town. It worked beautifully. DeBeauvoir spent the next few years working very hard – but, ultimately unsuccessfully – to get funding to turn the concept into product for her state, and ultimately for others. The State of Texas didn’t want to do it, because why should they spend money on something they were going to give away to other states–no financial profit for them involved. For profit companies didn’t want to do it because it would be open source, so no proprietary way to keep profits to themselves. It’s not clear why foundations were uncaring and unwilling to fund. But after 3 years and deadlines for new machines looming, she had to give up.

While it evidently didn’t bother people too much if American partisans could corrupt the election process through insecure machines making a profit for some company or another, after the 2016 election, in which the Russians made significant efforts to corrupt the process, there was a scramble to acknowledge that election security was a real problem. One of the original team who designed and built the prototype for Texas, works at Microsoft, and they became interested in creating an add-on to existing machines that could provide some of the benefits of the standalone prototype. It’s in the works and may or may not be used in the 2022 election at the earliest. So 2020 is on highest-value = profit-for-vendor machines – not a confidence building solution for a democratic republic’s electorate.

It is infuriating that we’ve had a great solution for a decade – a solution that would promote the general welfare, as our Constitution demands of all levels of our governance. And, it sits on the sidelines while those with money and power figure out how they can keep existing profit streams to themselves – to hell with the well-being of the nation.

While changing the money system will not fix all our problems, it will make fixing them possible. With a Just Money system, when we have the resources and the skills, we can spend public money when it needed to protect the commons. Please learn how.

 

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