Behind a significant portion of voting machines used in the United States lies a history of foreign ties, hidden ownership structures, and transparency concerns with the software itself. There is also a connection between two major voting systems companies, Smartmatic and Dominion Voting Systems, through the acquisition of Sequoia Voting Systems.
Information from lawsuits, public records, and witness interviews helps to untangle this web. The Epoch Times spoke with an intelligence source knowledgeable on Venezuela and its criminal activities, a former CIA official who is an expert in Latin American politics and counterterrorism, and a former director of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council who was fired for exposing election fraud in the country. Two of the sources requested anonymity so they could speak freely on the matter.
Dominion’s voting technology is currently used in 28 U.S. states and Puerto Rico, according to the firm’s official website. More than 40 percent of American voters cast their ballots through the Dominion system in general elections, including 65 of Michigan’s 83 counties, all 159 counties in Georgia, and 2.2 million voters in Maricopa, Arizona’s largest county, among others.
Smartmatic’s history in Venezuela goes back to 1997, when they were known as the “Research and Development Unit of Panagroup in Venezuela,” according to a 2004 archived post on Smartmatic’s website. Panagroup’s main goal “was to provide smart connectivity and information technologies to the automation and industrial control market,” according to the post.
Smartmatic was officially incorporated in Delaware in April 2000 and headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida. In April 2003, the company unveiled a prototype election automation machine. It was developed in-house and included the integration of hardware and software from design to deployment. The company moved its main headquarters to Amsterdam in 2004 and then London in 2012.
Although a little-known company at the time, Smartmatic was chosen by Venezuela’s regime for a 2004 referendum that socialist leader Hugo Chávez would win. It was also used in subsequent elections. Prior to that, Smartmatic was part of a consortium that included a software company partly owned by a Venezuelan government agency. At the time, there was a wide array of allegations of fraud in the referendum by media organizations and observers.
Smartmatic allegedly has 30 anonymous investors and silent partners who are mainly upper-class Venezuelans, including defense minister Jose Vicente Rangel and Chávez mentor Luis Miquelina, and others, according to a July 20, 2006, State Department diplomatic cable that was leaked to Wikileaks.
The company publicly acknowledged that Venezuela’s government manipulated the results of the country’s 2017 Constitutional Assembly election. Smartmatic said the turnout figures were overstated by at least 1 million votes, Reuters reported.
“We know, without any doubt, that the turnout of the recent election for a National Constituent Assembly was manipulated,” Smartmatic CEO Antonio Mugica said at a news briefing in London in 2017. “We estimate the difference between the actual participation and the one announced by authorities is at least 1 million votes.”
Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro, who is allied with the Chinese Communist Party and Russia, was indicted by the Trump administration in March on charges of “narco-terrorism.” Cuba’s Fidel Castro also mourned the death of Chávez, who called him a “father, a comrade,” according to a 2005 interview with Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma.
In Venezuela, Ana Mercedes Díaz was appointed deputy director general of the country’s National Electoral Council in 1991. Then, in 2003—just before the referendum—she was appointed director general of political parties of the council. (The electoral council is one of the five branches of Venezuela’s government responsible for overseeing its elections and referendums.)
Díaz was fired in 2004 after she published information on electoral fraud occurring in Venezuela’s referendum. She said that what’s happening in the United States mirrors the issues with Smartmatic in Venezuela.
“It was admitted by Smartmatic that the results can be manipulated,” Díaz alleged in an interview with The Epoch Times. “Smartmatic later came out of Venezuela, but it’s been proven that this type of fraud goes wherever they go. What’s happening in the United States is exactly the same thing.”
“This change is almost impossible to detect,” Díaz alleged.
After her firing, Díaz says someone who still worked for the council sent a copy of the contract the government signed with Smartmatic. She alleges that it was negotiated in only three days and thought it strange the government chose a company with no previous history or experience in elections, despite that being one of the criteria of the council’s selection.
Díaz later emigrated to the United States. Since Venezuela’s 2004 referendum until his death in 2013, Chávez won all of the country’s elections through a “fraudulent system,” she said.
Díaz noted other parallels and similarities between issues in this year’s election and what she saw in Venezuela. Many American poll watchers and challengers have submitted sworn affidavits saying they couldn’t see the actual ballots being counted, due to obstruction. She said in Venezuela, “observers were also not allowed to see the votes.”
“In Venezuela, the opposition was winning, the light went off, and when it came back, the results were flipped. I was following the U.S. election and there came a moment where information stopped … nobody knew what had happened,” she said.
“There was nothing for a few hours—it’s exactly, exactly, exactly how Smartmatic operated in Venezuela.”
According to Díaz, Venezuela is exporting its voting machines to other Latin and Asian countries so they can influence elections across the globe. The U.S. government has repeatedly sanctioned officials of Maduro’s regime who were involved in public corruption or undermining democracy.
Smartmatic “is thought to be backing out of Venezuelan electoral events, focusing now on other parts of the world, including the United States via its subsidiary, Sequoia,” according to the leaked 2006 State Department cable.
“Smartmatic is a riddle. The company came out of nowhere to snatch a multimillion-dollar contract in an electoral process that ultimately reaffirmed Chavez’s mandate and all-but destroyed his political opposition,” the cable continues. “The perspective we have here, after several discussions … is that the company is de facto Venezuelan and operated by Venezuelans.”
A former CIA official who’s an expert in Latin American politics and counterterrorism said his team found through an investigation that Chávez started to focus on voting machines to ensure victory as early as 2003, when more than 20 percent of Venezuelans signed a recall referendum to remove him as president.
“[Chávez] started talking to a company called Indra, a Spanish company which [ran] elections” in Venezuela at that time, he said.
After deciding that Indra’s voting machines weren’t “flexible” enough, Chávez contacted Smartmatic, according to the official. Smartmatic says that Chavez didn’t contact the company but that the process went through the National Election Council; Smartmatic later won the bid over Indra, and the five-member Venezuelan electoral council, dominated by Chávez supporters, awarded a $91 million contract to Smartmatic for the referendum.
“At midnight on Election Day, the machine stopped counting,” the official said, noting that Chávez was losing at that point. “By 3 a.m., Chavez had won by 10 percent.”
Smartmatic spokesperson Samira Saba said that results aren’t available in real time.
In 2005, Smartmatic bought Sequoia Voting Systems, a much larger and more established company based in Oakland, California. At the time, Sequoia had installed voting equipment in 17 U.S. states and Washington.
Concerns that Smartmatic had ties to Chávez were so widespread at the time that the U.S. government began investigating the takeover of the company a year after the purchase, The New York Times reported at the time. The probe was conducted by the Committee of Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which reviews deals by foreign acquirers for potential national security risks.
Among the points for concern was Smartmatic’s convoluted business structure.
“Smartmatic has claimed to be of U.S. origin, but its true owners—probably elite Venezuelans of several political strains—remain hidden behind a web of holding companies in the Netherlands and Barbados,” according to the State Department cable.
In 2006, Treasury Secretary John Snow had inquired whether the Venezuelan government could use Sequoia to manipulate U.S. elections. Then-Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), another high-profile politician who raised similar concerns, was the first to voice the need for an investigation of the Sequoia deal.
Before it sold Sequoia, Smartmatic had refused to undergo such a review by the U.S. government, claiming all the allegations were simply rumors.
“It seems [Smartmatic] could not overcome the cloud of doubt surrounding this deal—had they been able to, we would not be talking about a sale of Sequoia today,” Maloney said in a 2006 statement. “As I said in May, it seems that a CFIUS review was in fact the proper course.”
Smartmatic attempted to respond to those concerns, but in 2007, ended up selling Sequoia to what the company described in a statement as “a group of private U.S. investors comprised by Sequoia’s current executive management team, led by Sequoia President & CEO Jack Blaine and the company’s chief financial officer, Peter McManemy.”
Such private equity firms, as well as Dominion, were named in a scathing 2019 release by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), who had raised concerns about the poor condition and vulnerabilities of voting machines and other election equipment, along with a lack of transparency, in letters to these firms.
A year after Smartmatic sold Sequoia, the name of Sequoia’s new owner was revealed through a 2008 lawsuit: “SVS Holdings.” Court arguments uncovered that Smartmatic was still the owner of Sequoia’s intellectual property.
Dominion Voting Systems
Some Smartmatic employees later joined Dominion Voting Systems, which was founded in Toronto, in 2002 and also has offices in the United States and Serbia. In 2010, Eric Coomer, former Smartmatic vice president of engineering, joined Dominion.
According to a Dominion statement that has since been all but scrubbed from the internet, aside from a file saved by journalist Brad Friedman, the company announced on June 4, 2010, that it had “acquired the assets of Sequoia Voting Systems, a major U.S. provider of voting solutions serving nearly 300 jurisdictions in 16 states.”
“As part of the transaction, Dominion has acquired Sequoia’s inventory and all intellectual property, including software, firmware and hardware, for Sequoia’s precinct and central count optical scan and DRE voting solutions, including BPS, WinEDS, Edge, Edge2, Advantage, Insight, InsightPlus and 400C systems,” the release states.
“Dominion will also retain Sequoia’s facilities in Denver, Colorado, and San Leandro, California, and will consolidate Sequoia’s Jamestown, New York, facility with Dominion’s existing Jamestown facility,” the release continues. “Dominion has hired Sequoia’s customer service and technical personnel to ensure capable, experienced, and responsive customer service for all current Sequoia jurisdictions.”
The release notes that Dominion’s acquisition of Sequoia’s assets was reviewed by the Justice Department and nine state attorneys general. It was also reviewed and approved by CFIUS.
According to a July 2009 press release distributed by Business Wire, Sequoia and Dominion at one point also signed a temporary contract with New York state “for the purchase of voting equipment and related services to Dominion Voting, with Dominion assuming all of Sequoia’s obligations under the contract.”
The release states the financial details of the transaction “are not being disclosed by the parties; however both Sequoia and Dominion are pleased with the outcome of this agreement.”
In 2012, the connection between Dominion and Smartmatic was highlighted again in a lawsuit. Smartmatic filed the suit in the Delaware Court of Chancery against Dominion for the “company’s alleged breach of a licensing agreement and tortious interference with Smartmatic’s business,” according to a company statement.
“The lawsuit is seeking compensation from Dominion for allegedly withholding technology and services that had been licensed to Smartmatic, and for Dominion’s intentional actions to denigrate Smartmatic’s brand and undermine its relationship with customers and prospects,” the release states.
The case reportedly was settled out of court.
In 2009, Dominion and Smartmatic entered into a contract in which Dominion provided Smartmatic with optical scanning machines used in the 2010 Philippines election, which at the time was “the biggest automated election run by a private company.” Glitches on Smartmatic machines also took place in the Philippines election, as detailed in one report by ABS-CBN.
“Both companies’ reputations suffered as a result of heavily publicized litigation relating to a software glitch that was resolved just before the 2010 election and that litigation rumbled on to partly affect the mid-term elections in 2013,” according to a report published in Accesswire.
This history suggests that Dominion and Smartmatic each owned Sequoia at different points in time, and that the intellectual property of Smartmatic remains with Sequoia. It’s unclear whether Dominion used Sequoia software in the recent U.S. elections.
A number of Venezuelan individuals who worked for Sequoia also allegedly worked for Smartmatic and Dominion and had become contractors for each of the companies.
“They are moving around in there,” an intelligence source knowledgeable on Venezuela and its alleged criminal activities told The Epoch Times.
“Smartmatic machines allowed them to mirror the system, they can see live how much they were losing by,” the source asserted. “They tell you you would need to produce 30,000 votes and it has the ability to switch votes. Then, you balance it on your own.”
There have also been numerous issues with Sequoia’s voting software reported by a number of news outlets over the years. One of the problems took place in October 2006, when Sequoia, then a Denver voting machine contractor, had to send letters to 44,000 voters warning of a mistake on absentee ballots after they found the “yes” and “no” boxes on a ballot question were transposed.
Staple Street Capital, a private equity firm located in New York, purchased Dominion in 2018, according to a press release.
The securities firm that arranged the transaction, UBS Securities LLC, is a division of UBS Americas Inc., which ultimately falls under UBS Group AG, a company listed on the SIX Swiss stock exchange.
Three out of four board members of UBS Securities LLC are Chinese, at least one of whom appears to reside in Hong Kong, according to Bloomberg. UBS says it was one of the “first international banks to have a local presence” in China in the 1990s. In 2012, it formed the current company, UBS Securities Co. Ltd., which it says is the “first foreign-invested fully-licensed securities firm in China.”
Officials with Dominion didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment. On its website, Dominion has information under a specific subhead refuting any connection between Dominion, Smartmatic, and Sequoia.
“Dominion and Smartmatic are two separate companies that make electronic voting systems. Dominion does not use or license Smartmatic software. Smartmatic has also refuted such claims. Dominion did NOT acquire Smartmatic and/or its software from Sequoia,” the website states.
John R. Mills, former director of cybersecurity policy, strategy, and international affairs at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, told The Epoch Times: “There is this interesting intersection with legacy software or firmware developers in Venezuela and the current slate of voting machines including Dominion.
“Venezuela has a solid footprint of Chinese, Russian, and Iranian activities for influence operations in the Americas. For these to not have an intersection would be odd.”
Smartmatic spokesperson Saba told The Epoch Times that the company has “nothing to add” aside from the statements published on its website, “because those statements are the facts.”
Its website refutes any connections with Dominion or Sequoia. One bullet point the spokesperson lists in an email is that the company’s role in the 2020 U.S. election was “limited to the county of Los Angeles.”
Saba said in an email to another reporter: “There are no ties between Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic–plain and simple. No ownership ties, no software leasing, no business at all between them. In 2009, Smartmatic licensed scanning machines from Dominion for use in The Philippines for a Smartmatic election project.
“That short-lived contract was the first and last time that Smartmatic and Dominion tried to do business together. … Smartmatic sold election technology and services in Venezuela from 2004 until 2017.”
The Epoch Times visited Dominion offices in Denver and Toronto, which both appeared to be abandoned; the news outlet was denied entry to Smartmatic’s office in Florida.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the year Smartmatic was founded. The Epoch Times regrets the error.