Smartmatic, the Venezuelan leader in 'e-democracry'

Monday, January 29, 2018

Claiming to be the global leader in the voting technologies industry, Venezuelan multinational Smartmatic, headquartered in London, says it has helped millions of voters across the globe since 2000, from the US to the Philippines.

Presided by Antonio Mugica and with Lord Mark Malloch-Brown as chairman, the company said it has been responsible for the electronic tallying of more than 3.7bn votes in nearly 3,500 elections to date. From 2004 to 2015, the company participated in 14 elections in homeland Venezuela, providing more than half a million voting machines and processing over 377mn votes.

The company, however, has also been the subject of controversies and accused, for example, of having been too close to the late former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez. Last August, Smartmatic said that turnout figures in Venezuela's constituent assembly election, for which it provided voting machines and technologies, were manipulated and inflated by at least 1mn votes.

For 2018, of the 11 major elections due to take place in Latin America, the company secured a contract with El Salvador and is on course to close a one with Brazil, where its technologies were used in the last three elections.

BNamericas interviewed Victor Reis, president of Smartmatic in Brazil, about how the company's solutions will be applied in a critical election year in Latin America. 

BNamericas: In which Latin American countries are Smartmatic's electoral technologies present and what kind of solutions has it provided?

Reis: Since 2004, Smartmatic has provided election solutions to some Latin American countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Venezuela.

Because elections are cyclical, and election commissions are increasingly seeking technology solutions to improve their processes, we are constantly participating in public bids in the region and around the world.

We are the only company that offers technology and services to improve each stage of the election process. In Latin America, we have provided technology to register candidates, register voters, authenticate voters at polling stations, vote electronically with voting machines, online voting, digitize and process election results in manual elections, and publish results. 

In October 2017, the National Election Chamber of Argentina used our biometric technology to validate the identity of voters in six provinces of the north and 14 municipalities of greater Buenos Aires during the elections.

In recent weeks we participated in a public bid organized by Brazil's Tribunal Superior Eleitoral [top electoral court] (TSE). Because we offered the best price, we are in conversations with the entity to provide 30,000 printers that will be integrated to the same number of voting machines to allow voters to verify, via a paper copy of the vote, that their vote was registered accurately.

However, Smartmatic has provided election technology and services to Brazil for the 2012, 2014 and 2016 elections.

In March 4, we will help authorities from El Salvador to digitize tally reports, and transmit, consolidate and publish results.

In 2015, Smartmatic won three competitive bids in the Mexican states of Campeche, Tabasco and Chiapas, to assist the local authorities with the Preliminary Electoral Results Programs (PREPs) for the legislative and executive elections held between June and July.

Our Election Management System (EMS) was used to configure a Data Reception and Transmission Centre where tally reports were digitized and then transmitted. A sub-module of EMS called Public Site was used to publish results online.

As part of the services provided, Smartmatic trained 1,320 operators to serve 4.9mn voters. 167 results reception and transmission centers were configured and managed by Smartmatic. 

We are proud to have processed 100% of the tally reports that we received.

Also, in 2010 Smartmatic was selected by the Mexican Secretary of the Interior to supply 2,000 biometric registration units, to capture fingerprint, iris, facial features and images of the signatures of the Mexican underage population. Approximately 6 million Mexicans with ages ranging from 5 to 17 years of age were registered.

And in Chile, we provided electronic voting machines, and also an online voting solution in two municipalities, Maipu and Buin. Our technology enabled voters to participate in the allocation of public resources.

BNamericas: For which elections in Latin America will Smartmatic provide services this year?

Reis: We are always looking for opportunities to help improve elections in the region. Whether it is helping manage the registration of candidates, managing voter databases, helping process tally reports, or simply providing solutions to announce results.

In 2018, at least 11 countries in the region will hold elections, and seven of them are set to have a new president by the end of the year. This opens a great number of opportunities for us. For now, we have secured our participation in El Salvador, and possibly Brazil.

BNamericas: How is Smartmatic selected for those different elections? Is it always via a bidding process?

Reis: Having been in the business almost two decades, we know that selection processes are as contrasting as the economic, cultural, social and political realities of the different countries. Each country has specific procedures to hire or buy election technology. In the Philippines, the bidding process can last for six months, and they do it for every election.

In Belgium, we went through a robust two-year selection process that involved several technical analyses by authorities, universities, the PricewaterhouseCoopers independent agency, plus a field test led by the Federal Interior. After this process, they selected us in 2012 to be their technology provider for the next fifteen years.

In Brazil, the TSE is constantly conducting bids to select its providers.

BNamericas: Regarding the Brazilian bidding process and the printers for e-ballot machines, what kind of service will the company provide?

Reis: Following the public bidding process in January 2018, it is possible that Smartmatic will help TSE to make voting more auditable. To do so, it would be tasked with production, supply and technical guarantee of 30,000 Voting Print Sets; firmware development (including source code delivery); qualification and production of Voting Print Sets; production, supply and guarantee of 25,300 voting booths, among others.

It is important to note that Smartmatic will not provide the software on which the Brazilian voting machines run. [The software technology and source-code is Brazilian].

BNamericas: Recent tests with e-voting machines, including in Brazil, indicate there is hacking risk. How secure are Smartmatic's solutions?

Reis: Smartmatic began in 2000 as a cybersecurity firm. We have made security one of our main competitive advantages. Having counted over 3.7bn votes without a single spoiled one, we know that our technology is secure. Now, because technology is constantly evolving, our R&D labs are always updating our solutions to guarantee that they are secure.

To create a fully secure and transparent system, Smartmatic combined several security mechanisms and protocols: encryption, security codes, digital signatures and asymmetrical keys, shared encryption keys, protected results consolidation, source code revisions, and extensive auditing.

BNamericas: Currently, what are the company's chief technologies?

Reis: We offer a complete end-to-end suite of services, hardware and software to make each of the election processes more efficient and more transparent.

We are proud to have deployed more than 153,000 identity management devices to register and authenticate voters. 

In October 2017, Estonia set a new record for online participation when 31% of its electorate used an online voting solution created by Smartmatic and Cybernetica. This technology allowed voters to verify that their vote was counted accurately.

Our elections portfolio is divided into several main areas: voter management solutions to create and maintain voter databases; polling place solutions for voter authentication, and online voting. Our solution TIVI enfranchises those voters who cannot or prefer not to vote in a precinct; an election management platform that offers all the back door tools authorities need to stay in control, and project management and services.

We know running successful elections requires more than good technology. This is why we also offer services to make sure everything runs smoothly.