Electoral Technology Company Promoted by a Former Fortuño Official Gets Front-Row Seat

After the CEE allowed ES&S representatives to participate as observers during the primaries, the company presented a $56 million bid to sell ballot-counting machines.

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Tallying the PNP primaries was delayed after discrepancies in the published results.

Photo by Brandon Cruz González | Centro de Periodismo Investigativo

The group that toured several electoral units as part of the International Observation Mission to see first-hand how Puerto Rico’s June 2 primaries took place included two unusual members: a lobbyist and an executive from Election Systems & Software (ES&S), which is pursuing a contract of more than $56 million for the sale of nearly 6,000 counting machines to the State Election Commission (CEE, in Spanish).

Mario González Lafuente, former executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. under Governor Luis Fortuño’s administration, and Willie G. Wesley Jr., an executive of ES&S, posed for a photo in front of the CEE administrative offices as if they were part of the group of official international visitors. The group included magistrates and presidents of electoral courts from 11 countries invited to observe the electoral process.

In addition to evaluating voting and its processes, the International Observation Mission exchanges information on electoral issues, recommending and creating support networks among electoral entities to guarantee democracy through the universal right to vote. It was not indicated whether these individuals’ comments were included in any document from the election observers.

The Office of the Electoral Comptroller (OCE, in Spanish) indicated that the CEE invited the group and that the OCE only provided support to the international organizations involved.

“We only collaborated with the International Observation and the Inter-American Union of Electoral Organizations (UNIORE, in Spanish) event, supporting the CEE. We weren’t aware of that company’s participation. Their names were not on our official list of 19 people from different countries that make up UNIORE (among whom there were presidents or magistrates of electoral tribunals). Any additional guest to our official UNIORE list was the CEE’s prerogative,” the OCE said.

González Lafuente and Wesley Jr. also appear in photos with the group of international observers in rooms where workshops were offered, in the Detention Center 1072 when inmates voted, and inside the Electoral Operations building, where the Absentee and Early Voting Administrative Board (JAVAA, in Spanish) is located. These events took place three days before the primaries.

After last month’s primaries, the CEE received a proposal from ES&S for new machines and technology to manage the electronic counting process established in Puerto Rico in 2016.

During the June 2 primaries, there were hundreds of discrepancies between the results reported in the printed vouchers and those released to be shared publicly. Some candidates showed zero votes. Dominion Voting Systems, which provides the electronic count equipment, acknowledged an error when generating the results file.

ES&S told the CPI that the proposal “is simply an estimate, part of this process that has lasted through the CEE’s past two administrations [under Francisco Rosado Colomer and Jessika Padilla Rivera] in which the different commissioners of the different parties have also participated in some way.”

ES&S representatives Mario González Lafuente, third from right, and Willie G. Wesley Jr., far right, appear in this photo of the group of international observers in front of the CEE’s administrative building.
Photo taken from Facebook | Inter-American Institute of Human Rights

Neither González Lafuente’s nor Wesley Jr.’s names appear on the official list of the International Observation Mission, although Wesley Jr. and González Lafuente participated in the routes prepared for international observers, as the CEE confirmed. The tour on June 2 included visits to voting centers in San Juan and nearby Bayamón.

The alternate president of the CEE, Jessika Padilla Rivera, said the ES&S representatives asked to observe the primary processes. She added that the New Progressive Party (PNP, in Spanish) and the Popular Democratic Party (PPD, in Spanish) Electoral Commissioners, Vanessa Santo Domingo Cruz and Karla Angleró González, respectively, did not object even though the company has been talking with CEE presidents and other CEE election officials since last year about the equipment they sell. No other competitors for the contract were present as observers.

“It’s important to clarify that neither of the two [ES&S representatives] were part of the group of International Observers,” Padilla Rivera responded in writing to the CPI. The company’s representatives vying for the contract asked the PNP and PPD’s electoral commissioners “to observe their primary processes, a request for which none of the Electoral Commissioners had any objection,” she added. Only the PPD and PNP had party primaries.

The CPI learned from two different sources that since last year, PNP commissioners, Santo Domingo Cruz and Edwin Mundo Ríos, have been interested in the CEE buying ballot-counting machines from the company represented by González Lafuente. Even former PPD Commissioner Ramón Torres agreed with the idea.

González Lafuente currently works for Park&K Public Affairs and is a lobbyist for Election Systems & Software, according to the Puerto Rico Department of Justice’s Lobbyist Registry. Park&​​K Public Affairs says on its website that it provides guidance to the private and public sectors on public policy, government affairs, and economic development.

Two Park&K Public Affairs executives, Russ Klenet ($500) and Scott Klenet ($104) donated to the Governor Pedro Pierluisi Committee in October 2020.

Before providing lobbying services with Park&K Public Affairs, González Lafuente had professional services contracts with former Guaynabo Mayor Ángel Pérez Otero and with former Rep. Néstor A. Alonso Vega. Both were convicted of corruption in federal court in 2023 and 2022, respectively.

In the Municipality of Guaynabo, González Lafuente would bill up to $3,000 per month for 40 hours of work and $1,500 per month in the House of Representatives for 15 hours of services. The former Tourism director donated $3,000 to Pérez Otero’s campaigns between 2019 and 2020 and $250 to Miguel Romero in 2019 for the San Juan mayoral campaign.

ES&S Senior Manager of Public Relations Katina Granger said González Lafuente and Wesley Jr. participated as primary observers because it is “standard industry practice to help election service providers understand the process in each jurisdiction.” Granger assured that this is not the only electoral process in which ES&S has participated as an observer.

“Observing electoral processes is a standard in the industry to which ES&S belongs and is done throughout the different territories and electoral events,” Granger said in statements sent to the CPI. “Any company can request participation as an observer at an electoral event,” she added.

She further said that ES&S has been in communication with the CEE “as part of requests made by the current administration [led by Padilla Rivera] and the previous one [led by Rosado Colomer]” and that they have provided “information on the electoral technology solutions that the company supplies in 42 United States jurisdictions for the past 45 years.”

When the CPI asked if ES&S was favored over other companies by giving them access to the International Observer Mission, the PNP commissioner said it did not appear that way and simply responded favorably to a request they got to examine the process.

Although she could not specify when the executives requested to participate in the observation, Santo Domingo Cruz believes it was this year. She said ES&S has met with the CEE several times because the company has a “unique multi-machine” for counting ballots, which it presented during the first International Electoral Technology Congress, held in May 2023 in Puerto Rico. In addition to ES&S, EKNOWiNK LLC, Voatz, Aratek, OpSec, Thales, Xplor, Smartmatic, Minsait, Indra, Grupo MSA, and Grupo ASD, among others, participated in the Congress.

That ES&S machine, Santo Domingo Cruz said, can count between 200 and 300 ballots per minute.

“The only solution we have right now is that machine” to process the tens of thousands of mail-in votes received before the primaries, which are anticipated to be higher in the general elections on November 5, said Santo Domingo Cruz.

The PPD Commissioner alleged that she was only consulted so that the executives could observe the JAVAA processes. She said her office was not responsible for organizing or choosing the observers.

On Monday, June 17, ES&S presented its team to the electoral commissioners, and a full staff meeting of the Commission was called for this upcoming Friday when they expect the report from a technology committee, the PNP and PPD electoral commissioners said separately. The Dominion Voting Systems contract, signed in 2015, ends this year. On July 1, Dominion’s counting machines will become the CEE’s property.

The CPI learned that ES&S presented a cost estimate of $56,743,576 to the CEE around a week ago. It includes an allocation of $49,640,250 for 6,050 machines (DS300 Poll Place Scanner and Tabulator). Another line item includes six higher-speed machines at $184,605 ​​each (DS950 High-Speed ​​Scanner and Tabulator). Among the services included are licenses, equipment maintenance, training, and support for electoral events.

The Alternate President of the CEE and the Electoral Commissioner of the PNP confirmed to the CPI that they have received estimates from other companies for electronic counting machines and technology.

“The number of companies that can do business with Puerto Rico is very limited because they have to comply with EAC [Election Assistance Commission] regulations,” said Santo Domingo Cruz, saying that ES&S, Hart, Dominion, and Smartmatic are certified by the federal entity.

The Puerto Rican Independence Party’s (PIP, in Spanish) Electoral Commissioner, Roberto Iván Aponte Berríos, said the CEE “must be very careful, and if it’s going to open a process [to buy new equipment], it must be open to everyone. There must be transparency.” He noted that he was unaware that ES&S representatives were given access to the primary process as observers.

Meanwhile, the Electoral Commissioner of the Dignity Project (Proyecto Dignidad), Nelson Rosario, said he did not see any problem in ES&S having been in the primary observer group if they did not intervene with the electoral process.

The Citizen Victory Movement’s (Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana ) Electoral Commissioner, Lillian Aponte Dones, said she found out from the press about the presence of ES&S representatives on the observation routes.

“As commissioners, we were denied participation in the observation routes, but access was allowed to a company outside the CEE and linked to the PNP,” she said in a written statement, adding that this raises many questions because they are issues related to competing companies.

The alternate commissioner of the PNP, Mundo Ríos, said the almost nine-year-old contract with Dominion is “leonine” since the company “has all the control, from where it prints the ballots, the kind of ballots that can be used, who they transmit through, how they transmit.” He told CPI that “there are other companies” in the market that presented their technological equipment at the Technology Congress held in May 2023.

He also said under the current agreement, “you must buy programming that costs $250,000 because Dominion wants you to buy the programs from them. And with the other companies, you [the CEE] can transmit. They’re more modern, more efficient machines. The ‘multimachine’ of one of these companies counts as many as 500 or 600 ballots per minute. The one we have counts up to 200.”

More than two weeks after the primaries, Dominion Voting Systems has not provided the CEE with a detailed report on the electoral event’s inconsistencies. This Tuesday, the company sent a letter with no details about the problem. A week ago, the company cast off the matter with a “customer advisory notice” that the file issue was resolved. Dominion, which remains active in its effort to sell its services to the government, is listed — like ES&S — as a sponsor of the summer conference of the National Association of Secretaries of State, which this year will be held in July in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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