ES&S

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Election Systems & Software (ES&S) is the largest elections vendor in the US. They sell a variety of products, including voting machines, election management systems, voter registration software, and electronic poll books. ES&S is based in Omaha NE, owned by the Nebraska-based McCarthy Group.

History

Corporate ancestors

American Information Systems

Bob Urosevich worked at the Klopp Printing Company, which printed the paper for Douglas County NE's ballots. At the time, Douglas County was one of the largest locales still hand-counting its ballots. In 1974, Urosevich, who remembered taking standardized tests that were graded by optical scanners, wondered if the same system could be used for counting votes. He approached Westinghouse Learning Corporation in Iowa City to test out his idea.

In 1975, Urosevich gave a demonstration to Mike Boyle, election commissioner for Douglas County. Boyle was impressed, and at Urosevich's behest, he convinced the county to use it in the 1976 primary. Following its success in the primary, Urosevich founded Data Mark Systems as a seller of Westinghouse ballot tabulators, which received the contract to count votes in the general election.

Data Mark Systems, based in Omaha, marketed its product to other Nebraska counties as well. In 1978, Bob Urosevich hired his brother Todd, a former IBM salesman. As Westinghouse lost interest in the elections industry, some of its employees also came over to Data Mark. In 1979, Data Mark Systems was renamed to American Information Systems (AIS).[1][2][3]

William and Robert Ahmanson, savings-and-loan industry millionaires who were family friends of the Urosevich brothers, poured capital into AIS in 1979.[2] These AIS financiers were older cousins of Howard Ahmanson Jr., a Christian Reconstructionist who used his fortune to fund extreme right-wing politics and would later sit on the Council for National Policy. In 1987, the Ahmansons sold their AIS shares to the Omaha World-Herald, the state's largest newspaper (which got a 45% stake), and the McCarthy Group, an Omaha investment bank (which got 35%).[4]

Chuck Hagel, who became president of the McCarthy Group in 1992, also became chairman of AIS that same year. After Bob Urosevich left the company in late 1993 (he'd go on to found I-Mark Systems in 1995), Hagel replaced him as CEO. When Hagel decided to run for a Nebraska Senate seat in 1995, he resigned from both the McCarthy Group and AIS. However, he failed to disclose his positions at AIS, or his continued investment in AIS through the McCarthy Group. This ethical violation would come to light after the suspicious results of the 1996 election, in which Hagel won two shocking upsets in elections counted by AIS machines.

Business Records Corporation

Business Records Corporation (BRC) was a major provider of elections supplies (such as voting equipment and ballots) in the late-20th century. It was a subsidiary of Cronus Industries, a Texas company with ties to wealthy elites, including Caroline Hunt and a partner firm of Rothschild Inc. [5] From 1984 to 1986, BRC went on an acquisition spree, buying up other elections companies. In 1985, Cronus purchased Computer Election Systems Inc. (CESI), the largest voting technology company in the US, and integrated it with BRC.[4] By 1986, Cronus had sold its other subsidiaries and opted just to focus on BRC.[6]

Election Products Inc.

Election Products Inc. was a small elections company based in Virginia. In 1993, they developed a touchscreen-based DRE voting machine called the Votronic, resembling a Magna Doodle toy. Due to the limited resources of the company, the Votronic didn't take off very much. It was first used in a couple North and South Carolina localities for the 1996 primaries.[7]

Mergers and acquisitions

Largely due to its flurry of acquisitions, BRC was the dominant player in the elections industry. That also made it a major competitor of AIS. In 1997, AIS and BRC merged, with AIS being renamed to Election Systems and Software (ES&S). The Justice Department halted the merger on antitrust grounds, leading to an arrangement where ES&S transferred the Optech line (originally made by BRC) to Sequoia.[4][3] ES&S still retained its existing Optech contracts.

Not long after, ES&S acquired the Votronic touchscreen. They made cosmetic changes and updated it for ADA compliance, renaming it to the iVotronic.[8]

By the early 21st century, ES&S was one of the largest elections vendors in the US, along with Global/Diebold, Sequoia, and Hart Intercivic.

Attempted purchase of Premier

[9]

[10][11]

[Purported acquisition of Premier Election Solutions by Dominion Voting in 2010]

There is, however, some reason to doubt that ES&S's divestiture of Premier to Dominion was legitimate. Until at least 2017, seven years after Dominion purchased Premier, the ES&S website continued to market Premier's hardware and software.[12] Making it even stranger is the fact that Dominion does not appear to have ever marketed any Premier products.

Omaha World-Herald sells its shares

Even through the mergers that produced ES&S, AIS's main investors - the Omaha World-Herald and McCarthy Group - retained significant shares in the company. In 2011, the Omaha World-Herald sold its ES&S shares to the McCarthy Group, making the Group a majority stockholder in ES&S.[13]

Products

Punch card tabulators

Optical scanners

DRE machines

Election management systems

Employees

Board of directors

Executives

Programmers

Technicians

Controversies

Chuck Hagel ties

Chuck Hagel, after becoming president of the McCarthy Group in 1992, came to AIS as the chairman. He would later take Bob Urosevich's position of CEO following Urosevich's 1993 departure. Hagel decided to run in Nebraska's 1996 Senate election, stepping down from both companies in 1995. However, he remained closely tied through his AIS stock (which he transferred to the McCarthy Group) and good friendship with Michael McCarthy (the Group's founder). Hagel, a political newcomer, would go on to win two shocking upsets against popular candidates who were leading in the polls. AIS machines happened to count the vast majority of Nebraska votes, raising suspicion that the elections were rigged.

Making it worse was Hagel's unethical decision to obscure his ties to AIS. In mandatory Senate disclosure forms, he intentionally didn't mention his time at ES&S. Once he entered the Senate, he obscured the connection between his McCarthy Group investment and ES&S, using a loophole to avoid listing the Group's assets. The Senate ethics committee chair questioned Hagel's use of the loophole, and was strong-armed into resigning, replaced by another Republican who accepted Hagel's maneuver. His deceptive attempt to distance himself from AIS increased suspicion that something untoward happened in his elections.

Statistical analysis confirmed that Hagel's 1996 election results were irregular in his favor. The same irregularity also showed up in his 2002 reelection, which gave him the largest statewide election win in Nebraska's history.

Uncertified patches

ES&S has reprogrammed voting machines and central tabulators without supervision, a dubious practice raising the possibility that they tampered with election results. The most notable occurrences of this were in the 2004 Ohio and 2012 Ohio elections. In 2004, ES&S technicians visited multiple counties before election day and made unauthorized modifications to tabulators. In 2012, ES&S worked with the Ohio Secretary of State to install a last-minute uncertified patch onto central tabulators in 39 counties. Both times, Ohio's tabulators could have easily had malicious code installed by ES&S, and evidence hints at that being the case.

Suspect elections

1996 Nebraska general

Main article: 1996 Nebraska general election

Chuck Hagel, a newcomer to politics and the state of Nebraska, won a Senate seat in a shocking upset. He defeated popular Democratic governor Ben Nelson despite consistently trailing in the polls. Hagel's votes happened to be counted on AIS machines, the company in which he had served executive-level positions (that he then neglected to disclose). The strange outcome and Hagel's conflicts of interest raised serious questions about the integrity of the results. Statistical analysis confirmed that the 1996 election was uniquely irregular, compared to several other Nebraska elections including noncompetitive Senate races.

2004 Ohio general

Main article: 2004 Ohio general election

Right before the election, ES&S technicians came to several counties and reprogrammed their tabulators. They arrived without authorization, even to counties that normally didn't have ES&S set up their machines. Following the election, one tampered county tabulator showed a deleted audit log, a telltale sign of vote rigging. And it would later be revealed that Ohio's election results were likely altered in real-time by a man-in-the-middle (MITM), a setup which would have required rigged tabulators to receive commands from the MITM.

2010 South Carolina Dem primary

Main article: 2010 South Carolina Democratic primary

2012 Ohio general

Main article: 2012 Ohio general election

Ohio in 2012 appears to have had an attempted repeat of the MITM setup from 2004, which once again required county tabulators to be rigged. Secretary of State Jon Husted worked with ES&S to get a last-minute patch onto 39 counties' central tabulators. Thanks to a legal loophole, the patch could forego certification, allowing ES&S to undetectably install vote rigging software if they so desired. The patch itself was wholly unjustified for its claimed purpose of converting county results for the state tabulator, further implying that its true purpose was malicious.

Political connections

  • Caroline Hunt (family linked to the CNP)
  • Ahmanson family (son of the family patriarch was member of CNP)


Corporate connections

Numerous links to the Omaha business community:

References

  1. Wikipedia page for ES&S
  2. 2.0 2.1 Omaha World-Herald retrospective on ES&S
  3. 3.0 3.1 AIS early history
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Bev Harris investigation of ES&S
  5. Lynn Landes investigation of ES&S
  6. NYTimes 1986 report on Cronus Industries
  7. 1996 article on Election Products Inc.
  8. ES&S explains how iVotronic evolved from the Votronic
  9. Black Box Voting, "Letter of Complaint - Request for Investigation", 2009/09/25
  10. 2010 DOJ decision requiring ES&S to divest Premier
  11. Bev Harris on the antitrust decision
  12. Evidence that Premier products were still marketed by ES&S after the supposed divestiture:
    * 2013/01/28 products page - sells AccuVote OS, AccuVote OSx, DIMS, VoteRemote, AccuVote TSx
    * 2017/10/07 products page - sells GEMS, AccuVote OS, AccuVote OSx, AccuVote TSx, VoteRemote
    * 2018/11/05 products page - all Premier products now gone
  13. Omaha-World Herald sells ES&S

External links