Vote firm de­nies ties to Chavez

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Au­drey Hud­son

A com­pany that sup­plies vot­ing ma­chines in the U.S. and has Venezue­lan ties said on Oct. 30 that it is not se­cretly con­trolled or con­nected to Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s anti-U.S. pres­i­dent.

“There is ab­so­lutely no for­eign gov­ern­ment con­trol or own­er­ship,” said a spokesman for Smart­matic, which owns the Cal­i­for­ni­abased Se­quoia Vot­ing Sys­tems.

Amid ru­mors over the iden­tity of com­pany own­ers, com­pany of­fi­cials vol­un­tar­ily sub­mit­ted a no­tice to the U.S. Com­mit­tee on For­eign In­vest­ment in the U.S., said Jeff Bia­los, the com­pany’s lawyer, said at a press con­fer­ence.

Mr. Bia­los said of­fi­cials hoped to “de­bunk the myths of th­ese com­pa­nies and own­er­ship.”

He said that touch-screen vot­ing ma­chines are a grow­ing tech­nol­ogy that has al­lowed for fair and free elec­tions around the world.

“It’s the most se­cure form of elec­tions that has ever ex­isted,” Mr. Bia­los said.

The Mi­ami Her­ald on Oct. 28 re­ported the com­pany is draw­ing spe­cial scru­tiny from gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials who are con­duct­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Smart­matic’s pur­chase of Se­quoia last year.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion was sparked by a let­ter from Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, New York Demo­crat, af­ter the pa­per re­ported that the Venezue­lan gov­ern­ment owned 28 per­cent of Bizta, a com­pany op­er­ated by two of Smart­matic’s own­ers. Bizta and Smart­matic sup­plied elec­tronic vot­ing ma­chines for Venezue­lan elec­tions, in­clud­ing the 2004 ref­er­en­dum won by Mr. Chavez.

“Se­quoia does not man­age elec­tions or count votes, our cus­tomers do that,” said Jack Blaine, Se- quoia’s chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, re­fer­ring to elec­tion of­fi­cials.

Se­quoia has been in the vot­ing busi­ness for more than 100 years, and has been for­eign-owned for the past 24 years. It was pur­chased by an Ir­ish com­pany in 1982 and a Bri­tish com­pany in 2003.

An­to­nio Mug­ica, a Span­ishVenezue­lan na­tional and CEO of Smart­matic, said the firm is owned by him­self and Al­fredo An­zola and Roger Pi­nate, and that the main in­vestor is Jorge Massa, a French-Venezue­lan busi­ness­man. The group pur­chased Se­quoia last year.

“No gov­ern­ment has ever had a stake in Smart­matic, pe­riod,” Mr. Mug­ica said.

Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

Elec­tion ties? Venezue­lan Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez cam­paigned on Oct. 30 in Cara­cas. Mean­while, a U.S. sup­plier of elec­tronic vot­ing ma­chines with Venezue­lan ties sought to “de­bunk the myths” of its own­er­ship.

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