A tiny group of companies has become dominant in the field of voting equipment, in part because they are deeply engaged in setting up the rules that govern who can enter the marketplace.
For a system directly used by so many people — nearly 137 million Americans voted in 2016 and more than 122 million voted in 2018 — it might be surprising that there are not more players in the election equipment business.
The players we do have? The Big Three: Election Systems & Software (ES&S), Dominion Voting Systems, and Hart Intercivic.
By far the dominant supplier of voting equipment in the United States is ES&S. ProPublica reported in 2019 that ES&S controlled around 50 percent of the market. In the past several years, ES&S has established its presence in places including Pennsylvania, South Carolina, North Carolina, Delaware, and Wyoming.
Dominion Voting Systems claims to have been around for more than a century. It counts many counties in New York state among its clients, as well as having a presence in Illinois, Nevada, Louisiana, and, outside of the US, in Canada, Mongolia, and the Philippines.
A profile assembled by Dun & Bradstreet said Dominion makes special hard- and software used in 22 states, in addition to Canada and other countries. They produce optical ballot scanners and vote tabulators, voter list generators, election management software, and electronic ballot systems for absentee voting.
In 2019, the company found itself the target of activists’ concerns after the state of Georgia contracted to use its Dominion ImageCast X Voting System, whichWhoWhatWhy has reported as “a type of ballot-marking device [that] allows voters to mark a ballot on paper or electronically, but produces a summary count of votes on a QR code rather than a human-readable paper list.” Unlike conventional paper lists, the QR codes can’t be read by poll workers and can only be tallied by Dominion’s machines.
Hart InterCivic is the third, and provides paper ballots, precinct digital scans, electronic poll books, election night reporting, supplies, and printed ballot products. Hart does business in places including Tennessee, Texas, California, Missouri, Idaho, and Oregon.
During the 2018 midterms a number of “straight-ticket” voters complained that Hart’s eSlate system had switched their choices to the opposite party. The complaints to the Texas secretary of state’s office recalled similar complaints that had cropped up in Texas a decade earlier.
So, how did The Big Three achieve this near-monopoly? …