23 November 2012

Smartmatic's charm offensive

London 23.11.2012 - Opened my email the other day, and found a LinkedIn invitation from Paul Babic, Smartmatic's Chief Marketing Officer. Just imagine my expression, after all the things I have written about Smartmatic over the years. I thought it was a slip, a case of sending something to the wrong person, though I did reply, with "Hi Paul, did you really sent me an invite to connect?", expecting to never hear from him again. But it got better. Paul did reply, saying "Yes, Alek. I know we don't know each other personally, but we may have the opportunity to meet in the future. Cheers, Paul" At this point, I thought, anything could be expected, so I decided to play along.

My next message was: "Actually Paul, I am glad that you have made this overture, for, as I am sure you can imagine, I have a ton of questions to ask about Smartmatic. As a marketing man, you'll probably know better than me the costs of bad PR. Smartmatic's actions in that front have been poorly, well below par, for a multinational corporation claiming to be a "world-class operation". So how about getting this conversation started, and dealing head-front with the many legitimate criticism that I and others have raised over the years?"

To which this is what Paul replied: "Alek, in all fairness to you, I am afraid I would not be in a position to address your questions about Smartmatic. My involvement within the organization has been limited to product development and management, and more recently to business strategy. The PR side of marketing you refer to is not part of my function. However, if you would be interested in a conversation about how electronic voting (among other technologies) can benefit democracy, that is a discussion I would be very interested in having. I can share with you some of my own experiences (and all future challenges I anticipate this industry will go through), and I am sure you would be able to share many of your own."

So here we have an admission, by Smartmatic's CMO, that the "PR side of marketing [I] refer to is not part of [his] function." A marketing guy in charge of "product development and management" is not something out of the ordinary, is it? However, have a look at this comment in the Smartmatic article The Hill published recently. Could the Paul who wrote that reply to my article, be the same Paul who is now throwing a charm offensive? I would hate to think that this is another crude attempt from Smartmatic's marketing office.

Anyway, I did send another comment: "Apologies for the delayed reply Paul. I think you have hit the nail with the claim about how electronic voting can benefit democracy, in fact, I am going to blog about it and try to assess the topic objectively. Hopefully you'll want to move the discussion to a more public venue."

Paul said in his next reply "There have been some very good implementations, as well as some very bad ones. (The same applies to paper-based elections, by the way, some of which have worked very well and some have failed completely.)"

Mmm, "very good implementations" eh? And "paper-based elections" that "have failed completely." Shall I start with very good implementations of electronic voting? Where might that be? I'd say in countries where all parties to an election can audit the entire system, as and when they please. Is that the case of Venezuela, a place that Smartmatic flags as one of its success stories? I don't think so. Is that the case in the Philippines? Filipinos don't seem to think so either. So to which success could Mr Babic possibly be referring to?

A voting system, electronic or otherwise, is as good, or as bad, as those executing it, implementing it, as those in charge of it, as those making use of it. All of Smartmatic's involvements in elections around the world have been marred with controversy, when not with outright accusations of vote rigging. All of them. Regardless of location, culture, language, and people using the system. Chicago? A fiasco. Ditto Venezuela and the Philippines.

So where's your successful example of "very good implementation" of electronic voting Mr Smartmatic's CMO? Be very precise in your next answer, if you could. And what's with the asking where I'm based? Why is that relevant?


Kepler said...

Thanks, Alek, for keeping your investigation on these guys.

By the way, look at this:


I had to use those machines in Belgium's last elections and there were massive failures with them.
I had to spend more time in line to vote and I had to vote TWICE because the process got stuck in the middle.
There was recounting in a couple of municipalities...this didn't happen when we were doing it manually.

AB said...

Thanks for bringing that up Kepler. It just reconfirms that Smartmatic is yet to participate in one clean, transparent, and smooth electoral process.

The contention that electronic voting, or to be more precise, Smartmatic electronic voting, is a benefit to democracy is beyond preposterous. Simply untenable in light of all the evidence against it.

The other message we can take from the above, is that Smartmatic has a serious HR problem. After winning nearly $500 million in dodgy places around the world, it still don't seem capable of hiring the right people to deal with their hugely negative PR.