The heat is on in Brazil, and the temperatures are likely to reach boiling point by the fall. The World Cup has focused global attention not just on the competition but on continuing reports of mismanagement and corruption.
As recently as June 8, Adidas, the longest standing World Cup partner, lamented the revivified charges against former FIFA board member Mohammed bin Hammam, accused of allegedly bribing six members of FIFA’s executive committee in order to secure Qatar’s successful bid for the 2022 World Cup. Sponsors hardly ever make such public statements; the fact that it was Adidas that did so here should now raise even more red flags worldwide.
At the same time, another upcoming event in Brazil may be of greater long-term importance to global onlookers: Brazil’s general election scheduled for October 5 to choose a president, the National Congress, and state governors and legislatures.
While a local political election in South America won’t generate the same interest on Main Street North America as a sporting event of mammoth global profile, when the two events are linked, it should. A successful and profitable World Cup could arouse widespread euphoria and boost incumbent prospects (more so if Brazil wins the tournament). By contrast, reports of corruption and incompetence might simply hoist a new government into power.
Consequently, when campaigns are hotly contested, whether it be the selection for the venue of a global sporting event or the election of a president, confidence in the electoral process is weakened if the parties and the processes relied upon to assure honest outcomes are found to be susceptible to manipulation or, even worse, outright corruption. It is for this reason that a higher standard for transparency must be a priority for both public sector and private sector participants in any election process anywhere — an even higher standard, in fact, than the now-familiar regimens of enhanced accountability with which public companies must comply in the aftermath of the economic crisis and pandemic corporate scandals.
It is bad enough to lose confidence in a bank or an insurance company, but to lose faith in your ability to access the ballot box ultimately leaves one disenfranchised. Therefore, private and public sector interests responsible for assuring fair elections must take all necessary steps to anticipate and to avoid the distrust and skepticism voters may have in the process.
Hence, the continuing presence of Diebold as the primary voting machine supplier for the Brazilian elections —responsible for the integrity and security of the election system nationwide — is somewhat puzzling considering its many legal and reputational problems throughout its history, not to mention warnings, in 2012, from high-authority tech bloggers as to the fundamental insecurity of Diebold systems.
While the CEO and others inside Diebold may want out of the voting business, it is plying its legacy services in Brazil regardless, despite a protracted tax dispute with federal and state agencies in the country. If that dispute ends unfavorably, Diebold could be forced to restate its financial results all the way back to 2008.
As Brazilian voters head to the polls this fall, public perceptions about the company managing its voting machines could be troublesome. Again, we’re talking about perception, not culpability. Diebold just needs to tell its shareholders why it remains involved in the election business and, by so doing, presumably correct dark conclusions that public stakeholders may otherwise reach. If the situation begs for clarity, the company should have everything to gain by providing it.
Perhaps all interested parties should take some comfort that the World Cup has put a spotlight on Brazil if, as an ancillary benefit, further attention rivets on an issue in which the people of Brazil have a direct stake. Hopefully, the whole world will be watching, and not just the soccer matches.
Michael Steele is the former Chairman of the RNC and a political analyst at MSNBC. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelSteele.