The use of Microsoft’s vote-counting technology in Monday’s Iowa Caucus may foreshadow a future in which corporate technology plays a central role in U.S. elections, raising concerns about the possibility of private firms skewing the democratic process.
In a disclosure largely unreported by the news media last year, President Obama’s Special Commission on Election Reform recommended that commercial software and computers, such as iPads, be used to accurately record and count Americans’ votes — even though companies’ financial interests can be helped or hurt by the outcome of those elections.
Following election issues that plagued the Iowa Caucus in the 2012 presidential race, Microsoft partnered with the technology firm InterKnowlogy as well as the Democratic and Republican parties to develop and deploy an electronic reporting system used in the caucus on Monday. But now questions have been raised as to the effectiveness of the Microsoft volunteer effort.
CBS News reported:
The company — which teamed up with Interknowlogy to create party-specific applications on mobile and PC platforms so that Iowa’s nearly 1,700 precincts could quickly report vote tallies — said in a statement Monday night that the “mobile apps for both parties have been working without issue.”
An Iowa Democratic Party spokesperson also confirmed to CBS News that the app itself “worked well.”
But even that 2016 technology — a far cry from the caucuses’ original touch-tone phone reporting system — wasn’t foolproof.
Some voters complained on social media that they were having difficulty with accessing the central website reporting the caucus results, leading Microsoft to release a statement saying high traffic temporarily overwhelmed the website. “National interest in the Iowa Caucuses has overwhelmed the Democratic and Republican Party Iowa Caucus websites,” the company said in a statement Monday.
Conflict of interest?
Already, some political participants are raising the alarm about Microsoft leaders’ ties to presidential candidates.
The Hill reported on concerns from Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign about Microsoft’s ties to the Clinton Foundation:
Pete D’Alessandro, who runs the Sanders operation in Iowa, last week questioned the tech giant’s motivations. However, the campaign declined to expand on its concerns after multiple requests for clarification.
Other aides to Sanders noted that Microsoft employees have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Clinton campaign, according to MSNBC.
“You’d have to ask yourself why they’d want to give something like that away for free,” D’Alessandro said.
Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin noted last month that “Microsoft, founded by leading H-1B/amnesty cheerleader Bill Gates, has been [Marco] Rubio’s No. 2 corporate donor the past five years.”
Breitbart’s Julia Hahn further reported:
Microsoft founder Bill Gates is a member of Mark Zuckerberg’s immigration lobbying firm FWD.us and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is a co-chair of the immigration lobbying firm the Partnership for a New American Economy—along with Fox News’s founder Rupert Murdoch.
Both immigration lobbying firms have endorsed and lobbied for Marco Rubio’s 2015 immigration expansion bill—known as the Immigration Innovation Act, or I-Squared—which would have tripled the issuances of low-wage H-1B guest worker visas.
Corporate involvement; ballot reform
Iowa seems to have been a test drive for the use of Microsoft, InterKnowlogy, and other firms in future U.S. elections.
Indeed, Tim Huckaby, InterKnowlogy’s founder and chairman, told the CRN.com website that his company in September and October will unveil two 3-D, touch-enabled big data visualization apps to track results in the 2016 presidential election.
It is notable that Microsoft is a strategic partner of Scytl, an international company that in 2012 purchased the leading U.S. electronic voting firm SOE Software.
In 2014, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s venture-capital fund announced an investment of $40 million in Scytl. “This is a very powerful global trend,” said Abhishek Agrawal, a managing director of Vulcan Capital, the investment branch of Allen’s Vulcan Inc. “There is a pathway toward gradual modernization.”
This reporter previously documented Allen’s political contributions to both Democrats and Republicans, including the campaigns of Democratic Reps. Norm Dicks and Dennis Heck, both from Washington state, where Allen owns the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks National Football League team.
One of Allen’s philanthropic organizations, the Allen Institute for Brain Science, earmarked a $60 million annual donation to support Obama’s initiative to map the activity of every neuron in the human brain.
In April 2013, Obama announced his plan, the BRAIN Initiative, or the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative.
Another of Allen’s charitable groups, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, donated a total of $250,000 to the immigration-reform advocacy group Centro de la Raza.
The same foundation provided $450,000 to the Urban Institute.
The supposedly “nonpartisan” Urban Institute’s employees have a record of donating nearly 100 percent of their political contributions to Democrats. Officially, the Urban Institute advocates for socialized medicine, carbon taxes, and amnesty for illegal aliens.
Meanwhile, in 2012 Scytl announced the successful implementation of technology that allows ballots to be cast using Google and Apple smartphones and tablet computers.
Such methods may become part of the official voting process in the U.S.
In January 2014, Obama’s 10-person Presidential Commission on Election Administration released its recommendations for reforming the U.S. election process, including transitioning to voting via tablet computers and other technologies.
The commission recommended:
Software-only products can be integrated with off-the-shelf commercial hardware components such as computers, laptops, tablets, scanners, printers, and even machine-readable code scanners and signature pad products.
Tablet computers such as iPads are common components of these new technologies. They can be integrated into the check-in, voting, and verification processes in the polling place.
The commission highlighted new technologies in which the voter can “pre-fill” sample ballots at home to be later scanned at the polling place.
The panel dismissed concerns about hacking. The commission stated: “The fact that a tablet or off-the-shelf computer can be hacked or can break down does not mean such technology is inherently less secure than existing ballot marking methods if proper precautions are taken.”
With research by Brenda J. Elliott.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.