THE BLOG
11/01/2006 06:11 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

From Diebold, Inc.: Democracy Unbound

"Automobiles. The printing press. The personal computer. These milestones of progress improved society forever. Now it's democracy's turn." -- www.diebold.com

From the time of its birth in ancient Athens, democracy has been a scarce commodity. So scarce, in fact, that wars have been fought over it.

In 490 B.C., the Greeks defended their precious store of democracy against the Persians at the Battle of Marathon, made famous by the two-day swing dance with which they celebrated their victory. In 1775, in the peaceful white-collar suburbs of Lexington and Concord, employees of the Bunker-Ramo Corporation battled British troops so that our own treasured cache of democracy might grow and flourish.

Even now, brave American men and women are protecting precious stores of U.S.-made democracy, secured behind barricades, trenches, and barbed wire, from rampaging Asiatic hordes not so different from those faced by the ancient Greeks.

But throughout history, people have dreamed of a better world. A world in which democracy is unbounded, unlimited, free for the taking. A world in which -- to paraphrase the Rev. Dr. Larry King -- democracy would flow "like a mighty stream."

One of those dreamers was Charles Diebold.

Growing up in a humble family of poll workers in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the mid-1800s, Charles saw at first hand the terrible cost of American democracy: the ankles sprained on potholed roads on the way to the polling place, the fingers lost to the cruel machines that trimmed the paper ballots, the eyesight sacrificed to reading and tallying faint X's on a scrap of paper. But even more painful than these physical costs were the tragic moments when the people voted for an inappropriate candidate, squandering their vital supply of democracy.

Young Charles vowed to find a better way.

In 1859, Charles founded the Diebold Safe & Lock Company. Its motto: "Locking Up Elections Safely." Since electronic computers were not yet invented -- Babbage's Analytic Injun, a cigar-store Cherokee with an abacus in place of a tomahawk, was still on the drawing board -- Charles contented himself with making large safes and vaults for banks and other clients, so that precious stocks of democracy could be kept secure from those who might misuse them.

Over the years, Charles's company -- now renamed Diebold, Incorporated -- created jail cells, padded cells, tear gas dispensers, file systems, microfilm systems, drive-up banking systems, alarm systems, pneumatic-tube delivery systems, surveillance systems, system-control systems, system-monitoring systems, system-systematizing systems, Automatic Teller Machines, and armor plate for tanks. In 2001, in recognition of its role in protecting the nation's precious reserves of democracy, Diebold was awarded the contract to secure the Charters of Freedom, including the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and the National Guard service record of President George W. Bush.

But it was only in 2002, with the acquisition of Global Election Systems, that Charles Diebold's childhood dream began to reach fruition. Today, that dream -- the dream of young Charles, and the dream of humanity since the days of ancient Athens -- has become a reality.

Democracy so plentiful that it need no longer be counted.

Democracy too cheap to meter.

Today, it's hard to remember that there was once a time when votes had to be painfully cast and painstakingly counted. Responding to the mandates of the Help America Vote Act of 2002, the vast majority of the 50 states now use preprogrammable, wholly automatic electronic voting machines in some or all of their jurisdictions. In this November's election, 40 percent of America's votes will be cast by such machines, and a full 90 percent will be cast or counted electronically.

The models used most often?

Diebold's state-of-the-art AccuVote TS and TSX.

We have a soft spot for our own product, of course. But we have full confidence in those of other manufacturers, nearly all of whom share our close financial relationship with America's leading political party. And indeed, in the last few elections, electronic voting machines have proven themselves in race after race, correcting the errors of "scientific" exit polls -- nearly always in the right direction.

In the unlikely event of a malfunction, skilled plainclothes technicians are on call 24/7 to install a quick, effective, and undetectable "patch." In fact, the AccuVote is so user-friendly that it can often be serviced by the customer -- especially since it can be conveniently opened with a standard key from a file cabinet or hotel minibar. And since there's usually no messy "paper trail" to worry about, expensive, traumatic recounts are not just unnecessary -- they're downright impossible.

Sprained ankles, strained eyes, ink-stained or lopped-off fingers: all these are now things of the past. While many Americans still make the traditional trip to their local public school or other polling place on the first Tuesday in November -- a pageant as quaint and colorful as the reenactment of battles between Minutemen and Redcoats on the village green -- the rest of us can rest secure in the knowledge that the outcome has already been determined. Secure because we know it is the right outcome -- an outcome scientifically programmed to reflect the deepest values and most vital interests of the American people. So no matter how the ship of state is battered and buffeted by war, hurricanes, or pedophilia, it can be counted on to hold its true course.

It's a remarkable thing, when you think about it. While in other parts of the world people still struggle for democracy, here in America it's something we can take for granted -- as pure and plentiful as the air we breathe, the water we drink, or the carbon dioxide that keeps us warm.

Young Charles would be proud.