Be caeful what you wish for …

There is a nice article on AlterNet that argues election vendors should be “sued like big tobacco.” One problem with this analogy is that Big Tobacco has long marketed a known dangerous product which has no identifiable benefits to the consumer. But let’s ignore that analogical problem; the essential argument is that election vendors knowingly sold defective products to states and localities, and should be sued for doing so.

I don’t know what the evidence is that they knowingly sold such products. There is an anecdote in the report about a production facility in the Philippines, and some other examples of vendors selling machines that had not been completely certified (does this constitute marketing a known defective product?).

The last sentence of the report is telling: But the overall push on this is to reclaim public control of public elections and the dangers associated with outsourcing of our elections to private companies for certain key election functions.

I think there is nothing wrong with holding election machine manufacturers to the same standards that we’d expect of any product manufacturer. This last sentence, though, seems to me to indicate a deeper motive: driving the manufacturers out of business and wrecking the industry.

I wonder what the alternative is going to be. I’ve attended a number of presentations about open source elections software, publicly created elections machinery, and the like, but these conversations always grind to a halt when you ask who will produce the machines, who will certify the software, and who will manage this process.

If someone is going to argue for an end to privately manufactured elections machines, then I hope they’ll also start to wrestle with the difficult next step: how will this be managed by state and local governments?