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Last October, Belgium held provincial, municipal and city district elections. Since 2012 Smartmatic has been deploying its technology and services in the country.

This time, 3.7 million voters in Flanders, the Brussels Capital Region, and the German-speaking Community of Belgium (DGB) experienced casting their votes with our electronic voting solution.

Rachid El Habti, project manager of the Belgian elections, shared some of the highlights and significant takeaways from the October polls. He also noted how Smartmatic is preparing to face the upcoming May elections in the country (Regional and Federal parliaments, as well as European Parliament vote.)

Election technology innovation

Two original hardware devices were added to Belgium’s existing automated voting platform, a voting machine (A4-517) and a new president machine (VIU-805), both featuring innovative designs and user-friendly interfaces.

“The introduction of the new voting machines represented a big challenge for us during the October elections,” explained El Habti. “It is always exciting to see how the voters and the clients react to the latest voting machines, and how they perform on Election Day.”

Fortunately, the new technology offered a seamless experience for voters and poll workers. “When you introduce new devices, it is critical to make sure that everything performs as expected and that clients and voters feel satisfied.”

Challenges come in daily

Working on election technology can be confronting but also motivating. Rachid and his whole team know it very well from their experience in the field. New requests or unexpected obstacles might come in different forms, models or procedures. “However, we are committed to show our clients they can rely on us. We are there to control and monitor all the technology and services, so they perform as well as expected.”

As a project manager, El Habti is delighted with the October Belgium local elections. “Honestly speaking, we succeeded! The rollout of the machines was seamless.”

Another big success. “Everything went smoothly. It was a zero-penalty project. This is both a reason to be proud and a challenge. We just set the bar even higher for all the upcoming contracts in Europe and the world.”

It is so much easier to say it than to do it. Nevertheless, Rachid does not hesitate to share some pearls of wisdom of what it takes to finish a successful e-voting project. “You need to have a clear structure from the beginning. Coordination and flawless communication with your team, and the client are a priority. Additionally, it is critical to speak the same language as your client. Elections are a sensitive subject, so as technology providers we need to manage not only all the technical requirements but understand the political election language as well. The most important lesson is that we need to be all on the same track.”

My team is the star

Putting together the right team and leading them to commit to the project while enjoying their teamwork was a critical task for the project manager. “In Smartmatic, we usually recruit field staff depending on the project, so one of the biggest challenges we face, is welcoming, training, and relying on new staff,” said Rachid.

“Trusting your team is key. You need to delegate and trust that your staff is ready to follow up the services, processes and act upon incoming requirements.”

Nonetheless, he categorically adds, “the thing I am most proud of in this project is the team. The whole group worked truly hard, and consequently, the client was thrilled with our performance as an election provider.” It is not only Rachid’s words what proves this perception right. “Our clients’ survey evaluations gave us very positive feedback, and that is something it is always encouraging and gratifying.”

Part of the project’s confidence environment could be closely related to one of Rachid’s motto with the staff: “I don’t have stars in my team, the team is a star, and as such we will go for success.” He says it meant he did not promote individual stars, but the whole team as -the one and only- shiny star.

A reference for the rest of Europe

“After we all worked so hard to make the October elections a success story, we now have to be ready and very well prepared to shine again on the 26th of May. We need to continue showing the country, the clients, the voters, and all the election stakeholders in Belgium that they can count on us to plan and run the elections.”

Given that Belgium is a European pioneer in electronic voting (since 1991), Rachid El Habti assures us, “I am more than glad and satisfied to see how Smartmatic has become a key company to support the elections. We are building a good reference for the rest of Europe and the world.”

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