Both the State Elections Commission (CEE) and its president, Héctor Conty Pérez, have been generating a lot of buzz in the media these past few days, even more so than during election times. There’s a reason for it. Or several.
In late 2011, the Commission began an international bidding process aimed at implementing e-voting for the upcoming November 2012 elections, seeking to comply not only with the constitutional mandate that requires such elections, but also with the will of the common citizen that demands transparent and secure voting processes. It´s worth mentioning that the Commission has tried to automate each voting process they’ve handled, albeit without much success.
Last December, the CEE made public their choice of Unisyn, a company with no experience in the field of e-voting that only deals in horse betting software, and which also presented the most expensive bid. Surely, the same common citizen who demands more transparency and trustworthiness from elections wondered why this had happened, and even before an answer was given, very damaging evidence against this choice of company came to light: Howard van Pelt, representative of Unisyn in Puerto Rico, is involved in an alleged fraud for having sold defective voting machines to Northampton County, Pennsylvania, in 2007, while he was the director of the company Advanced Voting Solutions.
Given the announcement of Unisyn on May 8th 2012 that they’re removing themselves from the automation process, a second opportunity has been opened for Puerto Rico. The country must choose between two providers of electoral technology, Smartmatic and Dominion. To make the matter of choosing easier for the Commission (since both companies have the technology and the required certifications), we have done our own research.
Smartmatic has its headquarters in London. It has carried out elections in the United States, Venezuela, Curacao, the Philippines, and was recently awarded a contract to carry out elections in Belgium for the next 15 years. It definitely seems to be the company with the most international experience. However, some groups accuse the company of having fixed Venezuelan elections in favour of Hugo Chávez. If we do some research on the website of the Venezuelan electoral organism (http://www.cne.gob.ve/), where the results of every election and referendum are shown, we can see that this allegation is far from the truth. Chávez actually lost an election conducted using Smartmatic’s automated voting system, his first attempt to reform the Venezuelan constitution. More so, in the last parliament elections the opposition actually got more votes than the government did (they got less seats in parliament, though, due to gerrymandering). We must not forget that Chávez won 5 other elections where the automation was provided by another company.
In the case of Puerto Rico, Smartmatic presented the lowest offer, around 10 million dollars less than Dominion’s. The company also claims to have the 6,000 voting machines required for the process.
Dominion Voting is a private company with headquarters in Canada. During the past few years, they’ve implemented a growth strategy based on the acquisition of several companies of the competition, such as ES&S and Sequoia Voting Systems (both in 2010), which has allowed them to get a hold of a sizable share of the North American voting market. It’s worth noting that American electoral technology has been the target of severe criticism, and all the companies that operate in the country have seen their machines hacked by computer experts. Dominion’s electoral experience is limited to the United States and they have no known international projects under their belt. The company claims to have carried out elections in the Philippines, when they were only one of the many providers Smartmatic used during the 2010 elections. Curiously, it was precisely Dominion’s software which almost caused a debacle just days before the election. The issue was resolved in time, and according to the reports of all international watchdog organizations, the election was a success.
Dominion claims to have 300 machines out of the 6000 needed in the country, and states that they will have the total number by the deadline.
Without question, there are factors that could let the Commission decide (objectively) which company is best for Puerto Rico. The CEE has a transcendental decision to make, because democracy is not something to be played around with. It already made a mistake by appointing Unisys in charge of automation when the company lacked experience in these events. From this podium, we encourage the Puerto Rican authorities to choose the company with the most advanced technology, and above all, with enough proven experience to carry out processes in complex scenarios like the one in Puerto Rico.