DES working to improve its image before Election Day

WASHINGTON: With just six months left till Election Day, Diebold Election Systems (DES) is scrambling to salvage its reputation among election officials and the public. DES, the largest provider of touch-screen voting machines in the US, has come under fire for alleged security flaws in its machines and top executives' ties to the Republican Party.

WASHINGTON: With just six months left till Election Day, Diebold Election Systems (DES) is scrambling to salvage its reputation among election officials and the public. DES, the largest provider of touch-screen voting machines in the US, has come under fire for alleged security flaws in its machines and top executives' ties to the Republican Party.

Last month, California decertified the use of DES' TSX machine for the coming election, and bills pending in Congress would require all touch-screen machines to be re-fitted to print paper receipts.

Last Monday, in a meeting with The New York Times, CEO Walden O'Dell admitted to making a "huge mistake" when he said in an August GOP fundraising letter that he would help Ohio "deliver its electoral votes" to President Bush.

In an attempt to reverse the tide, DES and its parent company, ATM and vault maker Diebold Inc., have launched a nationwide effort to reassure election officials and the public that electronic voting is safe and accurate. "There's been a lot of talk about security concerns, and, on the whole, those are important. But they need to be balanced with facts about accuracy and accessibility," said Mike Jacobsen, director of corporate and marketing communications for Diebold.

DES also must send legislators a nuanced message about bills requiring machines that leave paper trails.

"We're trying to say, 'Look, we're not opposed at all to introducing paper,'" said Jacobsen. "Technologically, it's doable. But from a public-policy standpoint, there needs to be agreement about things like how many languages they should print in and what size the print should be."

AOR Public Strategies is handling most of the PR work for DES, which has no in-house communications staff. Parent-company Diebold has been using its AOR, Dix & Eaton, to assist, as well. Jacobsen and one other Diebold spokesperson have temporarily shifted their focus to DES issues.

Jacobsen added that all Diebold executives swore off political activity last year, but conceded that they had probably waited too long.

The opposition shows little sign of letting up. "We plan to keep the pressure on until the federal government steps in

and takes over," said Aaron Toso, creative director for Cause Communications, which has helped organize several anti-DES rallies for the Ruckus Society and Global Majority.

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