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November 8, 2006

Political Branding: Diebold in 2006

DieboldThe big loser in this year’s electoral races looks set to be the Diebold Elections Systems, a brand name that is the focus of an excellent Fortune article entitled, “Rage Against the Machine”. After a series of mishaps on election day - which included one deranged voter literally smashing a Diebold machine, it seems likely that Diebold will try to get out of the election business altogether and save its brand's reputation.

It seems a shame because the problems that these machines cause are more often than not caused by human beings and, as the Fortune article points out, other forms of casting the ballot are not any more dependable. The Association for Computing Machinery is keeping careful track of the various complaints and glitches that seem to be popping up and casting the Diebold and Sequoia brand names in a negative light.

Diebold recently fought to have an HBO documentary cancelled that cast its machines in a bad light while others claim they can either hack the machines or open them up using mini-bar keys. It’s enough to make a brand manager considering throwing in the towel.

I cannot think of any brand that is under such intense and bitter scrutiny. If being the brand name of choice for voting machines turns out to be too risky for the companies that take up the challenge, we might find it very hard indeed to modernize the way we carry out democracy in the USA.

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Posted by William Lozito at November 8, 2006 11:41 AM
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1 Comment

I would imagine that if it continues to prove unprofitable for the private sector to enter the electronic voting market, we will see it handled on the Federal or State level. Not only would that allow investigators to look at the code used to process votes (instead of them being proprietary code), but the government has shown itself to have a near-limitless capacity to sustain brand damage.

If a private-sector company had been handling the 2000 Florida count, it probably would have had to leave the game for good as well after the brand damage it would have sustained. But while the State may have suffered countless jokes at its expense, it doesn't have a financial bottom line, so can afford such setbacks.

If there continues to be a push to modernize voting in America -- and if electronic voting, rather than an Oregon-style mail-in vote, is the method of choice -- I don't doubt it will happen, with or without private-sector investment. Someone has to build the machines, of course, but they can do so directly in the employ of the United States Government, and with the US Government branding its own machines.

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