Digital voting machines are in the spotlight in Venezuela, where the head of Smartmatic, a maker of election systems used in the country’s tumultuous constituent-assembly election, said Wednesday that the official turnout figure had been “tampered with .” The company’s CEO said the count was off by at least 1 million votes — possibly in either direction. Tibisay Lucena, head of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council, dismissed that allegation as an “irresponsible declaration” that might lead to legal action. The government-stacked electoral council claims more than 8 million people voted in the election for a nearly all-powerful constituent assembly. Independent analysts have expressed doubts at that number. Here’s a look at the technology and politics of voting machines and election systems. The voting-machine market is a speck in the prodigious tech sector. Iowa University computer scientist Douglas Jones estimates its annual revenues in the United States at less than $200 million — roughly what Google pulls in every day. It’s much harder to get reliable information about the fragmented global market for election systems.
The biggest U.S. player, ES&S, is private and has just 450 full-time employees. Because the U.S. voting landscape is so disperse and because it’s controlled largely at the county level, it’s not all that attractive to major corporations. One major player, ATM-maker Diebold, left the election-systems market a decade ago after computer scientists repeatedly identified vulnerabilities in its machines.
Although paperless machines that are essentially impossible to audit are still used in 14 U.S. states, the trend is toward optical-scan machines that record votes electronically but leave a paper record. The machines used in Venezuela, supplied by Smartmatic, produce a paper record for each voter.