The Price of Voting: Today's Voting Machine Marketplace

Date: March 2021
Author: Matthew Caulfield, Principal Investigator
Issue: Voting Equipment

Introduction from Verified Voting

In the spring of 2018, I heard Matthew Caulfield present the findings of the Wharton Public Policy Initiative study, The Business of Voting.

It was apparent that the Wharton team at the University of Pennsylvania had produced a seminal report. More systematically than any before, The Business of Voting shed light on the dysfunctions of the voting technology market. Many observers had criticized the mediocrity of voting machines and the slow pace of innovation, often blaming vendors for these failings. The Business of Voting instead applied economic principles to identify specific barriers to innovation in the voting machine market: the lack of a consistent funding stream; the cost to buyers of switching from one vendor to another; and certification procedures that created expenses and delays. These ideas have informed subsequent policy discussions.

In late 2020, Matthew came to Verified Voting with a problem. He had led a new team of Wharton researchers in completing an ambitious follow-up study, The Price of Voting, based on a large collection of voting system contracts. Then the Wharton Public Policy Initiative shuttered, leaving the report orphaned. We quickly decided that we should adopt it.

The Price of Voting draws on probably the largest dataset of voting system contracts ever assembled, spanning well over 400 jurisdictions. This wealth of examples provides unprecedented insight into vendors’ pricing strategies, including their wide use of ad hoc discounts and their sizable annual support revenues. The report astutely combines quantitative analysis and case studies to make best use of the available data. At the same time, The Price of Voting is admirably candid about its limitations and cautious in its generalizations. Public officials preparing to acquire voting systems, and citizens concerned about voting system negotiations and contracts, will better understand the challenges after reading it.

Verified Voting is delighted to publish The Price of Voting so this valuable report can find the audience it deserves. Apart from some small updates and copy edits, the report remains as it came to us: the work of a team of student researchers at the Wharton School, led by principal investigator Matthew Caulfield. Opinions expressed in the report do not necessarily reflect the views of Verified Voting.

With thanks,
Mark Lindeman, Ph.D.
Acting Co-Director, Verified Voting