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Florida conducts antitrust review of merger of voting-machine makers

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is conducting an antitrust investigation of a voting-machine company merger that would create a near-monopoly over the levers of democracy in Florida and much of the United States.

McCollum's office has issued at least six subpoenas covering every major voting-machine company as part of a civil investigation of Election Systems & Software's $5 million acquisition of Diebold Inc. 's election division — a merger that would give a private company too much power over the machines used to cast votes, voting-rights groups say.

"Our office engaged in this issue because anti-competitive behavior can seriously harm consumers," McCollum said in a written statement.

Under the state's 1980 anti-trust law, McCollum could persuade a court to levy fines against ES&S or prevent the company from operating in Florida. By next year, the company is expected to be the exclusive provider of voting machines and services in 65 of the 67 counties in Florida.

ES&S's purchase of the competitor gives it control of voting machines in nearly 70 percent of the nation's precincts, according to a federal lawsuit filed by a rival company, Hart Intercivic. The U.S. Department of Justice is conducting its own inquiry.

McCollum's investigation came to light Wednesday after eight voting rights groups sent him a letter urging him to open an inquiry — unaware that his office had already opened its investigation Sept. 10.

Spokesmen and lawyers for ES&S, Diebold and the other voting companies could not be reached or would not comment. Documents show that the companies that received subpoenas are ES&S, Diebold Inc., Hart-Intercivic, Sequoia Voting Systems, Scytl and Dominion Voting Systems Corp.

Marc Caputo can be reached at mcaputo@MiamiHerald.com.

Correction: Election Systems & Software purchased Diebold Inc.'s election division. An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the scope of the acquisition.

Florida conducts antitrust review of merger of voting-machine makers 12/16/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 17, 2009 11:14am]
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