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Meet Delegate Tim Timken, Election-Reform Case-Study

by Alli­son T. Hoff­man
The New York Observ­er

Of the 2,509 del­e­gates fill­ing the floor of Madi­son Square Gar­den for the Repub­li­can con­ven­tion, few may fit the arche­type of the Amer­i­can heart­land indus­tri­al­ist as well as W.R. (Tim) Timken, Jr., a fourth-gen­er­a­tion steel-man from Can­ton, Ohio, whose fam­i­ly com­pa­ny is one of the largest man­u­fac­tur­ers of tapered roller and nee­dle bear­ings in the coun­try.

In July, aggriev­ed mem­bers of the Timken Com­pa­ny steel­work­ers’ union addressed the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion by satel­lite feed from Can­ton to com­plain about Mr. Timken’s deci­sion to close three Ohio plants over a labor dis­pute. Mr. Timken, 65, the com­pa­ny’s chair­man since he retired as C.E.O. last year, seemed to take lit­tle notice, invit­ing Pres­i­dent George W. Bush to speak just days lat­er to a hand-picked group of work­ers.

A grad­u­ate of Phillips Acad­e­my Andover, Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty, and the Har­vard Busi­ness School, Mr. Timken is a Cheva­lier in the French Legion of Hon­or, a trustee of the Pro­fes­sion­al Foot­ball Hall of Fame, and a mem­ber of the Ohio Busi­ness Round­table exec­u­tive com­mit­tee. He earned his way into the Ohio del­e­ga­tion by per­son­al­ly rais­ing more than $200,000 for the Bush-Cheney ’04 cam­paign cof­fers, giv­ing him “Ranger” sta­tus on the cam­paign Web site; the Timken Com­pa­ny employ­ees’ polit­i­cal-action com­mit­tee has giv­en anoth­er $150,000 or so to the Repub­li­cans since 2002.

But Mr. Timken wears anoth­er hat: He’s a long­time board mem­ber of the Diebold Cor­po­ra­tion, anoth­er Can­ton-based com­pa­ny that is one of the largest ven­dors of elec­tron­ic vot­ing equip­ment in the coun­try.

Like the Timken Com­pa­ny, Diebold has a his­to­ry of gen­eros­i­ty to the Repub­li­can Par­ty. The com­pa­ny and its exec­u­tives have giv­en more than $400,000 to var­i­ous cam­paigns, state com­mit­tees and the nation­al par­ty since 2001, accord­ing to electionline.org, a non­par­ti­san group that tracks news on elec­tion reform. Last sum­mer, Diebold’s chief exec­u­tive, Walden (Wal­ly) O’Dell-him­self a Bush-Cheney Pio­neer, with more than $100,000 in con­tri­bu­tions col­lect­ed-caused a stir by send­ing out an invi­ta­tion to a fund-rais­ing event in which he said he was “com­mit­ted to help­ing Ohio deliv­er its elec­toral votes” to Bush in the Novem­ber pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

E‑voting oppo­nents jumped when news of the let­ter leaked out last year, alleg­ing that inher­ent­ly hack­able e‑voting tech­nolo­gies ought not to be in the hands of entre­pre­neurs with such “com­mit­ments.” The unseem­ly, if far­fetched, con­spir­a­cy they posit­ed between Diebold-whose machines are used by coun­ties from Flori­da to Cal­i­for­nia-and the Repub­li­can par­ty to rig the 2004 elec­tion result­ed in an apol­o­gy from Mr. O’Dell for his com­ments. In May he told the Asso­ci­at­ed Press: “The issue won’t go away. I feel very bad­ly about it. I made a mis­step with that let­ter.”

Mr. O’Del­l’s pub­lic embar­rass­ment and sub­se­quent con­tri­tion has­n’t stopped Mr. Timken (who declined to be inter­viewed for this arti­cle) from get­ting on board the Bush-Cheney bus, rais­ing thorny cor­po­rate ethics ques­tions for Diebold and the oth­er big elec­tron­ic-vot­ing ven­dors.

“Peo­ple who run these machine com­pa­nies should not be involved in mak­ing cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions,” said Mered­ith McGe­hee, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Pew-fund­ed Alliance for Bet­ter Cam­paigns, who has been an advo­cate of trans­paren­cy in the elec­tion process. “It’s not that these peo­ple should­n’t have the right to give mon­ey, but it does give the appear­ance of a con­flict of inter­est.”

Three months ago, in June, Diebold passed a new cor­po­rate pol­i­cy bar­ring exec­u­tives with over­sight of the elec­tions divi­sion-the com­pa­ny also makes A.T.M.‘s‑and employ­ees of that divi­sion from giv­ing mon­ey to polit­i­cal cam­paigns or from being involved in any way except for vot­ing. Accord­ing to Michael Jacob­sen, a Diebold spokesman, the pol­i­cy does not extend to Diebold’s board of direc­tors.

“They have no over­sight over elec­tions at all,” Mr. Jacob­sen said.

In Novem­ber, an esti­mat­ed 45 mil­lion vot­ers across the coun­try will cast their bal­lots on com­put­er­ized elec­tron­ic vot­ing devices, which look and work like over­sized cash machines. Accord­ing to Elec­tion Data Ser­vices, a pri­vate con­sult­ing com­pa­ny that tracks the elec­tion-equip­ment mar­ket, some 10 mil­lion of those peo­ple will vote on Diebold machines in coun­ties from Flori­da to Cal­i­for­nia; 15 mil­lion more in Cal­i­for­nia, Geor­gia, Neva­da, and oth­er states will rely on equip­ment made by Diebold’s main com­peti­tors, Cal­i­for­nia-based Sequoia Vot­ing Sys­tems and Nebras­ka-based Elec­tion Sys­tems and Soft­ware, to count their votes. The slim lit­tle com­put­ers record bal­lot choic­es on a chip card that poll work­ers pull out of the machines and deliv­er to coun­ty head­quar­ters for tal­ly­ing on Elec­tion Night.

But that leaves no paper record of bal­lots cast, say some com­put­er sci­en­tists and lay activists who have crit­i­cized elec­tron­ic vot­ing equip­ment: there is no sure­fire way to guar­an­tee that final tal­lies reflect the choic­es vot­ers actu­al­ly made.

That tiny wedge of doubt about the tech­nol­o­gy’s reli­a­bil­i­ty widened into a gap­ing crack in 2003, after inter­nal Diebold mem­os and source code sur­faced on the Inter­net, mak­ing it the favorite whip­ping boy of the elec­tron­ic vot­ing activism world. The depth of the com­pa­ny’s polit­i­cal con­nec­tions only aggra­vat­ed an exist­ing image prob­lem.

“There are peo­ple out there deter­mined to use every poten­tial or actu­al polit­i­cal con­nec­tion as a sign of con­spir­a­cy,” said Daniel Toka­ji, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of law at Ohio State Uni­ver­si­ty and an elec­tion-reform watch­er. “I’m sure it did­n’t occur to [Mr. O’Dell], but it should have occurred to him that the state­ments he made were fool­ish. He did the right thing by then say­ing he was going to stay out of pol­i­tics alto­geth­er, but you know what they say: you can’t unring the bell.”

Like Diebold, both Sequoia and ES&S have polit­i­cal con­nec­tions; ES&S, for exam­ple, was run by Chuck Hagel until 1995, when he left to run for the Sen­ate as a Repub­li­can from Nebras­ka. (He retained a finan­cial stake in the pri­vate hold­ing com­pa­ny that con­trols the vot­ing equip­ment mak­er after win­ning the seat.) But ES&S has giv­en less than $50,000 total to can­di­dates or the polit­i­cal par­ties since 2001, and that sum was almost even­ly split, with $24,550 going to Democ­rats and $21,900 to Repub­li­cans. Sequoia has giv­en even less-only about $21,000-with the bulk going to Democ­rats.

Only one Diebold exec­u­tive-per­haps not coin­ci­den­tal­ly, the pres­i­dent of the maligned elec­tions sub­sidiary-has giv­en to a Demo­c­ra­t­ic cause since 2001: Last year, Bob Uroso­vich stumped up $2,500 to the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­to­r­i­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee.

Roy Salt­man, an inde­pen­dent con­sul­tant involved in research­ing the first gov­ern­ment-stan­dards test­ing of elec­tron­ic vot­ing equip­ment in the 1970’s, said it’s not only the scale, but the lop­sid­ed­ness of Diebold’s con­tri­bu­tions that have cre­at­ed an anom­aly in the nor­mal­ly placid world of the vot­ing-machine indus­try-one which, until fed­er­al elec­tion-reform leg­is­la­tion passed in 2002 cre­at­ed a $3.9 bil­lion bonan­za for ven­dors, was only about the size of the domes­tic lawn­mow­er mar­ket.

“This thing about con­nec­tions to a par­tic­u­lar polit­i­cal par­ty has only come up in the past year or two, and this is the first time this has occurred on a nation­al scale,” Mr. Salt­man said. “After all, they always want­ed to sell to coun­ties that were con­trolled by one par­ty or the oth­er. So I think they all were always very care­ful to avoid the nation­al polit­i­cal con­nec­tion.”

At the local lev­el, Sequoia and ES&S also gave $100,000 and $50,000, respec­tive­ly, to help fund a Cal­i­for­nia bond propo­si­tion in 2002 that financed coun­ty pur­chas­es of new vot­ing equip­ment; and Kevin Shel­ley, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic state leg­is­la­tor who spear­head­ed the propo­si­tion’s pas­sage, was sub­se­quent­ly elect­ed Cal­i­for­ni­a’s elec­tions chief.

But that sort of “con­flict,” some elec­tion experts say, is just a cost of doing busi­ness, not a moral flaw in the sys­tem.

“Every­one involved in the vot­ing process has a built-in con­flict of inter­est,” wrote Michael Shamos, a pro­fes­sor of com­put­er sci­ence at Carnegie Mel­lon Uni­ver­si­ty who tes­ti­fied before Con­gress in June about elec­tion equip­ment stan­dards, in an e‑mail to The Observ­er . But he went on: “The out­come of the elec­tion is not in the hands of the vot­ing sys­tems man­u­fac­tur­ers, despite much non­sense that has been pub­lished.”

Both Sequoia and ES&S only make elec­tion equip­ment; at Diebold, which only got into the elec­tion busi­ness in 2002, when it acquired a Texas-based com­pa­ny called Glob­al Elec­tion Sys­tems, vot­ing machines account for only four per­cent of the com­pa­ny’s annu­al $2.1 bil­lion rev­enue.

As a result, and as Jacob­sen, Diebold’s spokesman point­ed out, the mon­ey train reflects a host of finan­cial and strate­gic inter­ests that may have noth­ing to do with the elec­tions unit.

“It skews the num­bers if you don’t think of it that way,” Jacob­sen said.

“They did­n’t pay atten­tion to how [polit­i­cal involve­ment] would affect the way peo­ple who buy vot­ing machines would view them,” said Mr. Salt­man, who has char­ac­ter­ized the elec­tion indus­try as one with an excep­tion­al­ly high down­side risk from neg­a­tive pub­lic­i­ty.

While in most indus­tries — say, home appli­ances — bad pub­lic­i­ty might only affect the com­pa­ny in ques­tion, in the pecu­liar lit­tle world of elec­tions, bad pub­lic­i­ty for new tech­nol­o­gy sends a sig­nal to the coun­try’s 5,000 or so local offi­cials, who gen­er­al­ly have very lit­tle tech­no­log­i­cal exper­tise, that they should stop and wait for guid­ance from else­where before they make a deci­sion on what kind of sys­tem to adopt.

Delays at the fed­er­al lev­el in fund­ing and staffing the new Elec­tion Assis­tance Com­mis­sion, which is charged with devel­op­ing tech­no­log­i­cal stan­dards for vot­ing equip­ment, mean that over­sight of elec­tion machines, and of the indus­try itself, has not been sig­nif­i­cant­ly height­ened since 2000. Offi­cials at the EAC say they have no estab­lished plans to deal with ques­tions of cor­po­rate ethics, and in any event com­plain that the agency lacks the reg­u­la­to­ry author­i­ty to demand that com­pa­nies or local offi­cials adhere to its guide­lines.

In the mean­time, as Novem­ber approach­es, unease about the machin­ery Amer­i­cans use to vote may only rise.

“There is a great deal of inten­si­ty on the Demo­c­ra­t­ic or lib­er­al side, because the very real sense is that they lost, and they real­ly feel the elec­tion was stolen. Bush was not their guy, and they got ripped off,” said Ms. McGe­hee, of the Alliance for Bet­ter Cam­paigns. “I don’t think that there was ever a sense before that an elec­tion was won or lost because of the tech­nol­o­gy, even though there might have been sus­pi­cions or how the bal­lots were count­ed, or of the offi­cials. Those of us who were raised to believe that tech­nol­o­gy is non­par­ti­san are being dis­abused of that.”


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