Blowing the Whistle on Diebold

Article excerpt

ON JULY 13, the Pensacola, Fla.-based law firm of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. filed a "qui tam" lawsuit in U.S. District Court, alleging that Diebold and other electronic voting machine (EVM) companies fraudulently represented to state election boards and the ftederal government that their products were "unhackable."

Kennedy claims to have witnesses "centrally located, deep within the corporations," who will confirm that company officials withheld their knowledge of problems with accuracy, reliability and security of EVMs in order to procure government contracts. Since going into service, many of these machines have been linked to allegations of election fraud.

In the wake of alleged vote count inconsistencies and the "hanging chad" debacle of 2000, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002. HAVA appropriated $3 billion to replace voting equipment and make other improvements in election administration. Diebold, Election Systems & Software and Sequoia Systems secured the lion's share of $300 million in contracts to purchase EVMs. All 50 states have received funds and many are hurriedly spending it on replacing lever and punch card machines in time for November.

According to the Election Assistance Commission, more than 61 percent of votes in the 2004 presidential election were cast and/or tallied by EVMs. Election Data Services, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm, estimates that the figure will jump to 80 percent by November, which will see elections for all 435 seats in the House of Representatives.

Matt Schultz, an attorney with Kennedy's law firm, Levin Papantonio, describes the process of competition for HAVA's $300 million of contractor funds as "a race to the bottom." "There is no question in my mind that these companies sacrificed security and accuracy, mass-producing a cheap product to cash in on tons of federal money," Schultz says. "It's an industry-wide problem."

Qui tam lawsuits stem from a provision in the Civil False Claims Act, which Congress passed in 1863 at the behest of President Abraham Lincoln to respond to price gouging, use of defective products and substitution of inferior material by contractors supplying the Union Army. …