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Trump's conspiracies pose 'existential' threat to electronic voting industry -Smartmatic

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Antonio Mugica, CEO of Smartmatic, poses near the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, December 11, 2020. Picture taken December 11, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

WASHINGTON, Dec 14 (Reuters) - Conspiracy theories alleging that voting machines were used to steal the election from President Donald Trump pose a major threat to the worldwide market for electronic voting systems, the CEO of Smartmatic, a leading provider of such systems, told Reuters.

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. Officials in other countries were either reluctant to sign deals or 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 last week.

He added that the industry was "collateral damage" in a wider attack on democratic institutions.

Mugica stopped short of putting a figure on the cost to his business. But he noted that in the case of Colombia, where his company had spent years trying to get its foot in the door, "we are dead in the water because of this situation."

Colombia's election registrar said it had not opened negotiations with Smartmatic.

Mugica said the company was doing what it could to beat the disinformation.

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 Lou Dobbs and Maria Bartiromo.

Smartmatic said on Monday its letter had also gone to Trump loyalist outlets One America News Network and Newsmax.

None of the outlets responded to Reuters requests for comment by late Monday afternoon.

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 over 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, an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and recounts in two swing states.

Officials in Trump's own administration described the vote as "the most secure in American history."

Smartmatic, which has provided voting machines, vote tallying software and election management systems to more than two dozen countries, has featured in several of the conspiracy 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 President-elect Joe 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.

Versions of the Smartmatic conspiracy have since seeped into other countries where the company has worked, such as Brazil 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

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