The New York Times reports on two newcomers to the e-voting industry. The companies - AutoMark Techical Systems and Avante Intl. Technology - may prove to be surprising dark horses in the election of e-voting vendors or little more than write-in candidates. AutoMark is the brainchild of Eugene M. Cummings, a Chicago patent lawyer who conceived a system to assist the disabled in voting, and co-founder Joseph Vanek, also a lawyer. New Jersey entrepreneur Kevin Chung started Avante after the election of 2000.
The federal Help America Vote Act of 2002, which in part required greater voting access for the disabled, had just become law, and the two men thought "that the solutions that people were proposing would never fly because they were purely electronic."
Cummings envisioned a system that would give the disabled several ways to read and mark physical ballots.
"What if you can't hold a pen? How do you mark a ballot?" Vanek asked. "What if you cannot see because you're blind--what do you do?" Their solution incorporated features like Braille, as well as a "sip and puff" method to allow those with motor impairments to mark ballots.
While the machine was well received at election industry conferences, going against Diebold and Sequoia was going to be hard. AutoMark teamed up with a distributor. That has brought success - $100 million in sales -- but only a modest return.
Avante's machines produce a paper record of a voter's choices. But that's much less popular. The company has only $10 million in revenues and its first major sale was only in 2005, to Warren County, NJ.
Chung hopes the machines will find more receptive audiences because of the security flaws found recently with some of the other systems. Additionally, because his model both displays the entire ballot and has a paper receipt that a voter can view to ensure the vote is accurate, states like New York, which require these features and have not yet replaced their machines, are potential customers. The Warren County approval, while providing only $1.8 million in sales, "also puts us into play" with other states, said Richard Gleim, a company vice president.
But dealing with local governments. That's an uphill battle.
Michael Shamos, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, said while there was "plenty of room for a good design, it doesn't mean the company will be successful in the marketplace."
"This involves selling to municipalities and county governments, and there are companies who have been in the business for decades or even a century," Shamos said. "The only realistic way for a new company to succeed is to sell to a big company who has had experience selling into that community. It's not like consumer products."