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Voting 'monopoly' about to be busted up

The nation's largest voting-machine company probably won't be called a monopoly for much longer in Florida and other states.

Under a proposed settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice and nine states that include Florida, Election Systems & Software will divest itself of its hardware, software and other assets it acquired after the $5 million purchase of Premier Election Solutions, a division of Diebold Inc.

The state and federal governments released the draft settlement agreement Monday -- on the same day that the Justice Department and a group of attorneys general from states including Florida filed a civil anti-trust suit in Washington federal court.

The ES&S merger announced last fall sparked an uproar in the elections world because it would have made the Nebraska company the sole voting-machine provider in 65 of Florida's 67 counties. About 92 percent of Florida's 11.2 million voters would have cast ballots this year on ES&S machines, which would have been in nearly 70 percent of the nation's precincts.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum hailed the announced settlement -- which has yet to be approved by a federal judge -- as a win for consumers. McCollum said he feared a monopoly of the scope of the ES&S case would have been bad for democracy.

``This divestiture action will provide greater competition, which is critical to ensure that vendors continue to develop accurate, reliable and secure systems and provide those systems to our election administrators at competitive prices,'' McCollum said in a written statement Monday.

More here