Queries over bad record of digital voters’ register firm Smartmatic

A polling clerk uses a Kiems kit to identify a voter.

A polling clerk uses a Kiems kit to identify a voter. Smartmatic International, the company contracted to supply voter identification system in next month’s polls, has a controversial track record that has seen multiple countries question the reliability of its technology in the aftermath of poll disputes.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Smartmatic International, the company contracted to supply voter identification system in next month’s polls, has a controversial track record that has seen multiple countries question the reliability of its technology in the aftermath of poll disputes.

From the US to Venezuela, Zambia, Uganda and the Philippines, Smartmatic’s reputation has taken a hit amid accusations of tender irregularities and providing kits that are vulnerable to tampering.

The company has, however, strongly defended itself against the accusations, claiming allegations made against it are false and intended to injure its reputation.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has lately been at pains to defend its preparedness for the August 9 polls, including the controversy about the use of either a digital or manual register to identify voters.

Political undercurrents

As the supplier of the Kenya Integrated Elections Management System (Kiems) kits, Smartmatic is at the centre of the raging political undercurrents that have pitted Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition presidential candidate Raila Odinga against his Kenya Kwanza rival, Deputy President William Ruto.

While Mr Odinga has insisted that a manual register must be available for use in the General Election, DP Ruto has rooted for the digital register.

Smartmatic builds and implements electronic voter systems. It was contracted by IEBC to supply up to 10,000 KIEMS kits for use in the upcoming polls. It is also the software provider for the kits, having replaced OT Morpho, now called Idemia, which was the technology service provider for IEBC in 2017.

Mr Odinga has insisted that IEBC must have a manual register to provide for eventualities such as technological failure of the kits, but DP Ruto has maintained that a manual register provides a loophole for voter fraud.

Grappling with allegations

The IEBC commissioners have had to grapple with allegations of underhand tactics and infiltration by political players, including claims of internal divisions and inappropriate contact between staff and suppliers of electoral materials.

An article in The Manila Times of Philippines published on January 31, stated that a government agency of that country, Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Centre (CICC) concluded that Smartmatic "is compromised" following the 2016 elections.

In the US, Smartmatic accused the Fox News network of promoting a false narrative in the aftermath of the hotly contested 2020 US elections.

The tech firm accused Fox Corporation of “joining the conspiracy to defame and disparage Smartmatic and its election technology and software”.

Smartmatic provided election technology in one US county during the 2020 polls.

IEBC’s contract award to Smartmatic had been challenged at the Public Procurement Administrative Review Board, which had nullified it following an appeal by Risk Africa Innovatis Limited.

Technology tender

However, the High Court later allowed IEBC to proceed and award the contract to Smartmatic. Besides Smartmatic, the IEBC technology tender had also attracted the bids of Risk Africa Innovatis Limited, Indra Soluciones Tecnologias De La Informacion, Genkey Solutions BV, Laxton Group Ltd and Africa Infrastructure Development Company.

Risk Africa Innovatis’ arguments in the petitions were that IEBC had not been fully constituted during the time it was conducting the procurement, and that data migration was not budgeted for at the time the tender was being floated.

Before the High Court intervention, PPARB had directed IEBC on September 20, 2021, to prepare fresh tender document for the supply and maintenance of Kiems kits, a decision IEBC also challenged in the courts.

In Venezuela in 2017, Smartmatic on its own acknowledged that turnout voter figures were manipulated by at least a million. In Uganda, the biometric voter kits failed, forcing election officials to revert to the manual system. Failures and irregularities of the voting system in the Philippines were cited by some candidates for their failure to win. Their country’s cyber unit confirmed the allegations after an investigation.

Due diligence

IEBC on Saturday did not respond to the Nation’s queries about the level of due diligence they conducted on the firm.

On July 7, as he addressed the media at the Bomas of Kenya, IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati assured Kenyans that the commission was ready for the elections even as he condemned what he termed as “rising propaganda” against it.

Mr Chebukati said “the commission is on course in preparations for the General Election.”

Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya Coalition has been pushing for IEBC to have a physical register to complement the digital register. IEBC and the Kenya Kwanza Alliance, on the other hand, wanted the exclusive use of the digital register. The High Court has, however, issued interim orders to the IEBC to have the physical register ready to be used pending the determination of a petition that was brought against the commission.

Prior to awarding of the Kiems and ballot paper printing tender to Smartmatic and Inform Lykos of Greece respectively, there were allegations that an IEBC commissioner made several trips to Turkey and Qatar to meet with representatives of the two firms.

As the commissioner was meeting the representatives, some staff also travelled to Greece without the knowledge of their immediate supervisors and without the representative of the Kenya Bureau of Standards, who had been incorporated into the evaluation committee.

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