By Raphael Satter
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Conspiracy theories about how voting machines were used to stop the re-election of Donald Trump have not just sapped Americans’ faith in the democratic process – they also pose an existential threat to the market for electronic voting systems worldwide, an executive with a leading company said.
Antonio Mugica, chief executive of Florida-based Smartmatic, said the baseless claims circulated by Trump and his allies about Smartmatic and one of its competitors, Dominion Voting Systems, were having a knock-on effect outside the United States, with officials in other countries either reluctant to sign deals or warning that they were reassessing their contracts.
“I don’t think there is one customer in the world that has not come back to us to tell us either that this is a problem and this could endanger our future relationship for existing customers or that this could endanger a potential new contract,” Mugica said in an interview on Thursday.
His industry was “collateral damage” in a wider attack on democratic institutions, he said.
Mugica stopped short of putting a figure on the cost to his business but said that, in the case of Colombia – a country where he said his company had spent years trying to get its foot in the door – “I was informed by my sales force that we are dead in the water because of this situation.”
Colombia’s election registrar said there had as yet been no negotiations opened with Smartmatic.
Mugica said the company was doing what it could to beat the disinformation. A big chunk of its homepage is devoted to pushing back against the conspiracies, it recently hired Chicago-based defamation lawyer J. Erik Connolly, and on Friday it wrote to Fox News Channel demanding the network retract allegations leveled by its guests, including pro-Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, and hosts including Lou Dobbs and Maria Bartiromo.
It is true that machine-assisted voting – either via voter-facing touch screens or behind-the-scenes ballot tabulation software and digital poll books – has for years been the subject of persistent worries around security and reliability.
But there is no sign that the 2020 U.S. election was affected by any significant or wide-ranging problems, according to elections officials from both parties – a judgment affirmed by recounts in two swing states, exhaustive litigation, and an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. International observers endorsed the vote integrity, as did a variety of officials in Trump’s own government, who described it as “the most secure in American history.”
That has not stopped Trump, who has long promoted conspiracy theories, from continuing to claim without evidence that widespread voter fraud was to blame for his loss to President-elect Joe Biden on Nov. 3.
Smartmatic – which has provided voting machines, vote tallying software, and election management systems to more than two dozen countries including Belgium, Argentina, and Norway – has featured in several of the conspiracies theories pushed by the president and his allies.
Among those claims are that Smartmatic, acting at the behest of billionaire investor George Soros or late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, reprogrammed machines provided by Canada’s Dominion Voting Systems to transfer votes to Biden from Trump.
Smartmatic, however, has no current relationship with Dominion and had almost nothing to do with November’s election. Smartmatic helped tally votes only in left-leaning Los Angeles County, where Biden’s victory was never in doubt.
Such lies about election fraud have become ingrained in the minds of many on the American right, according to a Reuters/IPSOS poll published last month that showed half of Republicans believe the election was stolen from Trump.
Versions of the Smartmatic conspiracy have since seeped into other countries where the company has worked, such as Brazil https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/poder/2020/11/empresa-que-forneceu-urnas-para-venezuela-nunca-vendeu-aparelhos-para-brasil.shtml and the Philippines, Mugica said.
He said the impact of the Trump camp’s allegations would be felt well beyond his company.
“This, for us, is existential,” Mugica said. “But it’s very big for the entire industry, and ultimately it’s very big for democracy itself.”
(Reporting by Raphael Satter; Additional reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota, Colombia; Editing by Chris Sanders and Daniel Wallis)