Out-sourced elections: an about-face?

It looks like there may some movement away from the current situation in which U.S. elections are increasingly outsourced and privatized. As I’ve written earlier (and as pointed out more eloquently by many others, notably John Bonifaz in Rebooting America), privatization is what happens when elections offices effectively outsource their function to private for-profit companies, with the worst cases being states in which a few voting technology companies not only sell and support, but effectively operate, the systems for voter registration, election management, and for conducting elections with voting machines.

Well, we might be seeing a bit of a reversal in that trend, as another, less well known, factor in the U.S. elections business begins to kick in. The reversal is the news that one of the 3 major vendors, Sequoia, is getting out of the business of voter registration systems — presumably to focus on the other side of the business, election systems and voting devices.

The less well-known factor: as a business, it stinks! With only 3000-odd customers, mostly under-staffed, -funded, and -trained, an aging all-volunteer workforce for elections themselves, 50-ish different regulatory regimes, and the Federal government tightening the process now that zero voting systems in use actually meet Federal guidelines — well, who would want to try to make a viable business in such a market? Diebold now rues the day they jumped in, and has been unable to sell off their election systems business unit. Sequoia is now moving to cut in half the product management burden, dropping the product line with small pool of customers (once 50, now dropping below 30).

Lastly, the not-so-good news is that it’s most likely the Sequoia’s spot will be filled by another one of the 3 largest election technology vendors. Still, it’s a good example that the so-called "market" for election technology isn’t actually able to both sustain itself and serve the public good.

— EJS 

PS: And given how few customers there are and how hard it is to make a decent business of them, just check out some of prices (quoted near the end of the Newark NJ news article) that the vendors charge in order to keep the products afloat!

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