Authorities from the Consenso Federal ("Federal Consensus") political grouping, headed a presidential ticket made up of Roberto Lavagna and Juan Manuel Urtubey, said yesterday that Argentina's electoral body should suspend the use of a vote-counting system produced by Venezuelan firm Smartmatic for the coming elections, as the party expressed concerns over its security.
The move comes just two days before the National Electoral Chamber (CNE) is due to hold for a scheduled Council of National Parties (Consejo de los Partidos Nacionales) meeting, featuring representatives from all parties. PASO primary elections are due to take place in Argentina in less than two weeks time, on Sunday, August 11.
"The political parties, with all the distrust we have in the system, ask that the traditional system return," said Consenso Federal representative Daniel Pires, in comments delivered to the opposition El Destape radio station.
Pires indicated that a presentation would be made by his party to the electoral authorities, requesting that the Smartmatic system not be used in the provisional certification of votes. He expressed concerns over the potential "manipulation of the data from the provisional count."
The system is question is known as 'SmartTally' and is produced by the Venezuelan firm behind the Smartmatic voting system. It was acquired by Correo Argentino after the government put out a contract for tender with the agreement of the National Electoral Council (CNE) in 2017. The provionsal count system was put in place last year by decree, issued by President Mauricio Macri, as part of a bid to speed up the initial transmission of voting data.
Pires asked yesterday "that the Smartmatic system not be used, just as the PJ [Justicialist Party] requested."
Opposition lawmakers from the Frente de Todos political group have also expressed concerns over the system, with some describing it as "unsafe" and suggesting it could be subjected to "the manipulation of the data."
"The Smartmatic system is not finished. What they showed in the drill is not what they will use in the PASO. Then there is no security," Pires added, referring to a trial run test of the system that took place on Saturday, July 20, which was observed by members of the media, political parties and NGOs.
"It is not that we are against technological innovation – on the contrary – what happens is that if we are still in [a stage of] trial and error, we have to give a few more guarantees,” he added.
Renewed controversy of the vote-counting system was triggered after the trial run on July 20. Articles in media outlets, including Perfil, indicated that question marks remained over aspects of the system.
Crucially, questions were raised about the digitalisation of voting ballots into images and their subsequent transmission into telegrams, which are sent from polling stations to Correo Argentino, which collates the count. Though no accredited journalist was allowed to observe this stage of the process, according to Perfil, Smartmatic technicions, Correo Argentino employees and government-friendly official observers were.
Videos later seen by Perfil journalists revealed the point of contention: ballot slips are originally scanned into TIFF files, before being sent on to operators as PNG files. Some politicians expressed concerns about this step, indicating that votes could be tampered with during conversion.
The trial run was the only time that political parties were able to witness the system in action and subsequently, some politicians have said they are dissatisfied. Pires said yesterday there were fears that "provisional results could be manipulated."
"In a system where you are wanting to polarise between two forces, we have to be careful not to install a trend that remains in place later," said Pires yesterday.
He added that the provisional count "is the one that is put on the cover of Monday's [newspapers]," arguing that "we have to be careful that what they show is the actual results."
He alleged that "the Government has control over which [results] it is showing and they can put first the ones in which they are doing better."
"Nobody told us anything about Smartmatic programme audits. We have to have a parallel structure to check if the government is not manipulating the data," he alleged.
In the next few days, Argentina's electoral authorities must provide a response to claims from lawyers representing the PJ – and now also Federal Consensus – about various "technical problems and irregularities" they were allegedly observed during the trial run.