Reality Check – Smartmatic and its solutions

Fellow Citizen,

I am passionate about empowering citizens through technology. Electronic voting is good for democracy. It guarantees greater security, efficiency and transparency. Not to mention much faster results.

When nations switch from a manual to a technology based system, the change can generate controversy. In particular, creating opposition from those who distrust technology, to those with a vested interest in staying with manual ‘systems’, or both.

Those that defend manual voting resort to one of three claims: the technology is flawed; the technology is less secure; the provider is not trustworthy. In the case of Smartmatic and our technology, all three are false. As a company we invest heavily in maintaining the integrity of our technology, which has never failed and never has been hacked.

We are proud of the contribution our technology has made to modernising and strengthening democracies around the world, as well as the recognition we have received from independent observers at the UN, EU and The Carter Center, all of whom have declared that Smartmatic has “the best voting system in the world”.

If you have a question about our voting technologies, or how we work as a company, that is not addressed below, please email me:

Antonio Mugica

Myth 1: “Smartmatic’s Voting Technology Is Fallible”

1.1 “The technology is low-grade/ developed in Venezuela”

Smartmatic is a multi-national firm founded in the USA, with headquarters in London. The company includes founders born in Venezuela and nationals from over 30 countries working from over a dozen offices around the world. Smartmatic invests heavily in developing software and hardware.

Smartmatic’s systems and technology have been praised by election observers, including the Organization of American States, the Carter Center, the European Union and the International Foundation of Electoral Systems. The Carter Center has described one of the systems developed by Smartmatic as the “best voting system in the world, since it makes verifying the election results easier”.

1.2 “Smartmatic election technology is flawed”

Smartmatic has delivered secure, efficient and flawless results while processing over 3.7 billion votes in election projects in five continents.

The company has built a strong reputation by running trials and tests before Election Day to ensure an impeccable outcome. This protocol highlights any issues that need to be resolved and has been key to Smartmatic’s successful track record.   This pre-election quality assurance test makes sure we correct any issues that might arise before an election. A good example of this took place during pre-election testing in the Philippines (2010).  Before the elections, Smartmatic found an issue with compact flash cards provided by a subcontractor. Smartmatic decided to replace some bad data in the compact flash cards, a process overseen by authorities to guarantee that the change corrected any issues and that the integrity of the election was perfect. Smartmatic bore all costs for this replacement.

1.3 “Smartmatic doesn’t manufacture Vote Counting Machines (VCMs)”

For the past six years, Smartmatic has designed, manufactured and sold more VCMs and election technology than any other company in the world.

In accordance with standard practice in the high-tech industry (just like Apple or HP), Smartmatic has sub-contracted manufacturing facilities in China and Taiwan to assemble parts for more than 250,000 voting machines, as well as sizable quantities of other equipment. Smartmatic owns the intellectual property and licenses of all its systems, including the VCMs, and this facilitates constant improvements through software and hardware upgrades.

To claim that Smartmatic is not a manufacturer of its voting machines would be the same as saying that Apple does not manufacture iPhones or that HP doesn’t manufacture its computers because both companies outsource manufacturing.

Myth 2: “Electronic Systems Are Weaker Than Manual”

2.1 “The Source Code is not disclosed”

Understanding that transparency is key to building trust in election results, Smartmatic has made transparency, as well as auditability, a defining feature of its technology. To underline Smartmatic’s commitment to integrity, we have made it a point to actively push for stakeholders to conduct source code audits. The source code is, as a rule, available to political parties and accredited organizations for extensive scrutiny.

During the elections of 2010 in the Philippines, Smartmatic’s source code was accredited by a certification agency in the United States - SLI Global Solutions.  After this certification, the source code was digitally signed and hash codes were provided to all participants. The secure code was then loaded into each VCM. This last step helped guarantee that the code used was the same code that was reviewed.

For both Philippine elections, 2010 and 2013, authorities invited stakeholder groups to audit the source codes of the counting devices. Unfortunately, in 2010 not one single group filed an official request to review it.  In 2013, all watchdogs and political parties who reviewed the source code of both the Canvassing and Consolidation System and the VCMs, confirmed that the system worked as intended.

In 2015, Smartmatic and the Commission on Elections initiated the source code almost 7 months ahead of the 2016 Philippine Elections.  By the time the source code review of the base code was concluded in December 2015, very few political parties applied for the source code review, and their participation was limited to a few hours only.  The source code review for the customized code was initiated in January 2016.

2.2 “Electronic results can be intercepted and changed”

Smartmatic utilizes a range of mechanisms to safeguard security and privacy of votes, from: security fragmentation, security layering, device identity assurance, multi-key combination and opposing-party auditing. Furthermore, all electronic results are encrypted and digitally signed. This is very similar to the security protocols used by financial institutions to transact billions of dollars on a daily basis.

To protect the will of Filipinos, all election results are encrypted and digitally signed. After polls close, election data is transmitted in random patterns from the different precincts (more than 36,000) over the course of few hours, and it is impossible to know in advance when a specific precinct will transmit its results. The canvassing servers verify the authenticity and integrity of this data before accepting the transmission.

The transmission is done through a private network which is built together with all three major cellular networks in the Philippines (Globe, Smart and Sun) as well as a major international satellite communication provider (Inmarsat) using custom-made SIM cards and modems.

In the Philippines, every precinct prints 30 copies of the local results. These receipts are signed by the BEIs (boards of election inspectors) and distributed to poll watchdogs, political parties, media, and other groups for their safekeeping. This means that in every election, approximately 78,000 precincts produce 2,340,000 copies of their tally minutes. This physical evidence provides a robust auditing system in parallel to the transmission and canvassing processes. To date, 1.5 billion votes have been transmitted with Smartmatic technology in the Philippines alone. Not a single discrepancy has been found between the printed copies of results and the electronically canvassed results.

2.3 “Transmission of election results failed, and Smartmatic is responsible for such failure”
In both automated elections -2010 and 2013- 100% percent of the votes were counted. The electronic transmission rate was 90% for the 2010 General Elections and 76% in the 2013 Mid-term Elections. The former rate being higher as Smartmatic had full control of the transmission.

Several factors beyond the control of Smartmatic prevented electronic transmission from reaching 100%.

For example, in some areas, weak signals or the absence of telecommunications coverage prevented results from being electronically transmitted (the results that were not electronically transmitted were added to the count by physically transporting the CF cards to canvassing centers).

However, it is important to note that in both elections results were published much faster than in the days of manual counting when it took weeks for authorities to announce the winners.

2.4 “Electronic voting can be pre-programmed to rig results”

Following the 2013 midterm elections, some groups claimed that results were predetermined following a fixed-share voting pattern: 60% for one party, 30% for another and 10% split between remaining candidates.

The claim was investigated and debunked by election observers. The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV, the leading elections watchdog in the Philippines) declared that there was absolutely no evidence to support such theory. John Paul Vergara, Professor of Computer Science and Trustee at PPCRV, confirmed that the voting patterns were not rigged and reflected those that “would typically arise in almost any election.”

Notably, none of the election protests filed after the 2013 Midterm Elections raised the issue of an alleged pre-fixed voting pattern.  Not a single election protest prospered on the ground of rigged or pre-programmed results. 

A report written by academic experts1 discussed the inadequacy of evidence offered by critics of the 2013 automated elections and further found that the 60-30-10 pattern allegations did not hold well against scrutiny.  An investigative report written for Rappler by Aries Rufo, which used an analysis of official election canvassing results, also found that regional votes do not support the alleged 60-30-10 pattern.  

The alleged pattern was also dismissed by Dr. Michael Purugganan, Dean of Science of New York University, after he conducted a research on this allegation.  Dr. Purugganan was quoted saying, “No conspiracy here—just mathematics at work.”Several independent researchers have found that the software used by Smartmatic cannot be hacked, either by outsiders or insiders.

1 The authors who wrote the "Spark Report" Vol.6, Issue 4 are: Julio Teehankee (PhD, Associated Professor of Comparative Politics & Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, De La Salle University), Ador Torneo (PhD, Assistant Professorial Lecturer at the Political Science Department, De La Salle University) & Francis Isaac (Researcher at the Jesse Robredo Institute of Governance, De La Salle University)

2.5 “The VCMs could not detect ultraviolet ink in the ballots.”

There is no requirement in the Republic Act No. 9369 that specifically asks for ultraviolet ink detection. However, this has been an extra feature offered by Smartmatic as an added security layer, on top of the unique ballot bar code.

The VCMs used for the 2010 and 2013 elections are equipped with UV lamps that detect ultraviolet inks in ballots. All ballots used for the elections in 2010 and 2013 have included an invisible mark consisting of ultraviolet ink as an additional security feature which prevents fake ballots from being read by the machines.

The VCMs for the 2016 elections also have UV lamps to detect the UV inks embedded in all the ballots.

2.6 “Discrepancies between random manual audits and the electronic results prove that the VCMs are not accurate”

Discrepancies between random manual audits and electronic results are normal and can be expected.  A random manual audit, by its very definition, is manual and susceptible to human error.  Most countries that choose to automate elections do so to replace manual counting, as the latter is deemed inaccurate or prone to error.  Human beings are, by nature, prone to read results differently based on their subjective opinions or varying interpretations.  The Rice University has come out with a study that places the inaccuracies of manual audits to something as high as a 2% discrepancy.
In contrast, VCMs count votes consistently based on the parameters or specifications for counting votes as provided in its source code.

2.7 “Automated elections cannot be audited”

A core strength of Smartmatic’s electronic voting systems is that they are fully auditable. Unlike a manual ‘system’, a well-designed automated election, by contrast, produces multiple copies of every data point, both in electronic and paper-based forms. This creates a very rich audit trail that cannot be circumvented. This gives parties, election officials, candidates, accredited observers and even citizens the capability to verify that the results truly reflect the will of the voters. This is one of the strongest arguments in favour of good automated elections.

In the Philippines, each of the 78,000 precincts produce 30 printed copies of election results.  The ballots are also preserved and form part of the paper trail which add to the system’s auditability.

In the Philippines, two major post-electoral audits (conducted by several watchdogs’ organizations and the Department of Science and Technology in 2010 and 2013) proved the reliability of the system.  Also, about a hundred protest cases (that led to a manual recount of the ballots) ratified the accuracy of the electronic count.

2.8 “The VCMs do not produce a Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT)”

Smartmatic is proud to have conducted the first nationwide election in the world in which each electronic voting machine printed a copy of the votes. Electronic voting machines with VVPATs are today a world standard, and Smartmatic has been leading the way since 2004.

In electronic counting however, the marked ballot is in itself part of the paper trail and a previous Philippine Supreme Court ruling has said that the ballots themselves are sufficient forms of VVPAT.
Nonetheless, and in compliance with a more recent Philippine Supreme Court order, the VCMs will print out receipts for voters reflecting their selections. 

In addition, each VCM produces 30 printed copies of the results. The marked ballots and all the receipts available to compare with the electronic returns constitute the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail needed to validate the legitimacy of results.

2.9 “Smartmatic and Comelec have removed four key security features”

Four of the many security features offered by Smartmatic’s automated system have been subject to controversy, as misinformed sources state that Smartmatic and Comelec have removed them. They refer to: source code reviews, ultra violet detectors, digital signatures protocols and a Voter Verification Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT).
As explained above, all these safeguards have been used in all previous automated elections and will be available during the upcoming May 9 elections. Source code auditing was conducted before political parties, NGOs, and third parties -including an independent US company specialized in certifications- for a period of approximately eight months. Ultra violet detectors and digital signature protocols are part of the system and ready to be implemented.  The VVPAT has always been available as the paper ballot is part of the audit trail. It is important to note that, following a ruling by the Philippine Supreme Court, the VCMs will also be printing voter receipts as an extra transparency measure.

Myth 3: “The company, Smartmatic, is unfit for purpose”

3.1 “Smartmatic’s shareholders include national governments”
No Government, nor any private finance firm, has a stake in Smartmatic, which is in contrast to some of its competitors. Smartmatic’s stock is still predominantly owned by the four founding partners, plus Directors, employees and former employees.

3.2 “Smartmatic sides with local politicians”

Smartmatic has no history or involvement in electioneering with any candidate or party in any country. It is company policy to remain neutral, and strict internal policies forbid our personnel from taking an active role in promoting political parties of any kind. Operating in more than 25 countries and with neutrality being a core guarantee, any political links would go against Smartmatic's own interest.

Because of the security mechanisms and the unrivaled level of auditability Smartmatic’s solutions provide, not a single politician or political party could ever influence the outcome of an election through our technology.

3.3 “Smartmatic is a marketing business - not a software and hardware company”

Smartmatic’s headcount in R&D is far greater than that of rival firms. In fact, half of the company’s workforce is focused in this area (over 250 programmers in R&D centers located in Taiwan, Estonia, and Panama).

Smartmatic manufactures and sells more voting machines with VVPAT and VCMs than any other company in the world. Smartmatic owns the intellectual property and licenses of all its machines. The only parts of the Smartmatic supply chain that are subcontracted, at any point, are elements of logistics and assembly.

Smartmatic provides election automation technology and services in many countries, including the United States, Brazil, Belgium, the United Kingdom, among many others. Today, it is widely recognized as the leader in the election industry.