The biggest business in voting machine industry is busted

ES&S, the largest voting machine company in the business, uses lawsuits to maintain a vice grip on an industry that’s allergic to innovation.


November 1, 2019

It’s election season. You know what that means: thousands of lost votes, missing paper records, and an air of general confusion. 

Sometimes it’s hard not to wonder: “Who the hell makes these things?”

That dubious distinction belongs, primarily, to a company called ES&S, the largest voting machine company in the country. ES&S commands about 50% market share in the voting machine biz.

But, as ProPublica reports, ES&S didn’t become the biggest ballot business by accident…

ES&S strong-arms customers, rivals, and politicians alike

How, exactly? It’s not pretty:

  • It locks customers into contracts by suing them when they try to switch to other voting machine companies (like it did in Cook County, Illinois, in 2018 — the county ultimately used ES&S machines against its wishes). 
  • It donates money to politicians who prevent their jurisdictions from switching to cheaper/better options (like it did in Louisiana, where the governor kept the state in a more expensive ES&S contract at the last minute after years of receiving donations from an ES&S lobbyist).
  • It stifles competition by suing competitors (like it did this year when it sued competitors for bidding on a project in Los Angeles) and suing — or threatening to sue — activists and nonprofits who demand reform.

And, as election season starts, things don’t seem likely to get much better: 

The voting machine biz is relatively small — around $300m in annual revenue — and very niche. 

So, since it often takes more than $1m to get certified as a voting machine manufacturer — and since ES&S routinely sues competitors — innovative new businesses are unlikely to get in the biz.

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