By Kim Zetter August 13, 2007 | 9:19:17 PM
Who wouldhave thought that Manila sweatshops would figure prominently in the manufacture of U.S. voting machines?
It turns out that Election Systems & Software, one of the top voting machine companies in the country, has its machines assembled in a Philippines sweatshop. The $3,000 computerized machines at the heart of America's democratic system are assembled in a factory where workers earn between $2.15 and $2.50 a day, and the temperature sometimes soars above 90 degrees. This, and other surprising information, was uncovered by producers of Dan Rather Reports for an hour-long special that broadcasts tomorrow night on HD Net at 8pm ET and again at 11pm ET (and several other dates and times after this).
Although an HDNet spokeswoman had planned to send me the entire show today, she was only able to provide me with a 12-minute clip so far. But judging by that small preview, the show will be worth watching.
According to the program, ES&S contracts the production of its voting machines to two companies. The touch-screens themselves are made in the U.S. by Minnesota-based Bergquist before they're sent to Manila to be assembled with other parts made in Taiwan and Mainland China at Teletech (above and below right), a sweatshop factory that is connected to Pivot International. The latter is a contract engineering firm based in Kansas that is controlled by the Ching family, a Filipino family with "strong connections in top political circles" that has been investigated for suspect business practices and possible tax evasion, Rather reports.
Filipino workers in the Teletech sweatshop told Rather's producers that they rushed production of the ES&S machines to meet quotas and that the only testing they conducted on machines was a "vibration" test – which involved shaking the machines by hand (presumably to determine if there were any loose parts inside). Even then, only a fraction of the machines underwent this crude test.
Rather's producers also spoke with an American manufacturing expert who was hired by Pivot to manage the Manila factory. The expert told Rather that the touch-screens caused numerous problems and that in 2001 they were rejecting 30-40 percent of the screens that arrived from Bergquist.
Anyone who has been reading the e-voting posts here will know that ES&S machines are at the heart of a 2006 election dispute in Sarasota, Florida, where some 18,000 ballots cast on the company's touch-screen voting machines showed no vote cast in a congressional race. A memo sent by ES&S to Florida election officials three months before last November's election disclosed that the company was aware of problems with some of its touch-screen machines not responding to touch.
In a story published earlier this year I disclosed that Sarasota officials failed to post a sign at the polls warning voters that they might have to press the machines for several seconds to register their selections. I also examined incident reports filed by poll workers on Election Day showing that numerous voters reported having problems getting the machines to register their selection. Rather's report picks up on some of this previously reported information and reveals new information about the machines -- such as the fact that election administrators in Lee County, Florida, had such serious calibration problems with their ES&S touch screens in 2003 that they sent 1,800 machines back to ES&S for replacement. When testers touched one candidate on the screen, the machines registered a vote for a different candidate (see image at right for demonstration of problem).
If you don't have high-def TV, don't fret. You'll also be able to watch the show online (an HDNet spokeswoman says they'll post the program online in full either in advance of tomorrow night's broadcast or shortly thereafter). Until then, you can watch a 12-minute clip from the show here.