What went wrong: The Corporate lies versus the truth
Local Area Network Failure
The first time the second voting system for the European Parliament, with the very first LAN – Local Area Network ever realized in the world, was used in Luxembourg it failed miserably and made 420 members of the Parliament laugh and scream, as you can see from this video from RAI, the Italian public television.
Local Area Network Failure – The truth of what really happened
The first electronic voting system used in Strasbourg did not have any problem. It only had a very slow response time in delivering the results.
“La machine doit chauffer” – “the machine must warm-up” was the explanation of Simone Veil, the President of the Parliament. She had to explain what was going on to the general assembly waiting for the results to show up. Immediately after she approached Bruno Visentini, President of Olivetti, and member of the Parliament. She knew he was working for Olivetti, and asked: “You are going to fix this problem, aren’t you?” The answer was, of course, “Yes we will.”
They involved in the project Enzo Costa to do that. He was the engineer head of their technical maintenance centers worldwide. He was tasked to check-out the system and see what was wrong.
Enrico told him that they had to replace the P6060 central unit ing. Eccettuato, Olivetti’s project manager, had chosen for the system. It was running an interpreted basic polling software that was the source of the slow execution. They needed to replace it with an 8080 based computer, running a compiled PL/M language. This would take full advantage of the communication speed available. Enzo agreed, and Enrico prepared the new 8080 based computer for the second system in Luxembourg.
Following the request of Carlo De Benedetti, Olivetti’s CEO, and his boss, mister Costa’s main focus in Olivetti was the reduction of the cost of maintaining and repairing the equipment. Mister De Benedetti’s focus was, at the time, the recovery of the financial situation of Olivetti. His mandate to the group that bought all the European Parliament electronic voting system components from Enrico and from the other suppliers, such as the hard-disks and high-speed printers, was “buy whatever you want as long as Olivetti can sell it at a 45% markup“. A clear vision for the future development of his company.
Enzo saw that the test software needed to test and repair the terminals was separate from the operating firmware and asked to combine the two pieces to reduce the time needed for the repair technician to test the terminals during routine operations. He chose to activate the test mode when one voting button was pressed at power-up.
The customer wishes always come first, was Enrico’s belief, he made the change.
Unfortunately, both did not consider that the 420 members of the Parliament that interacted with the system were just normal people: someone was going to press the button when he shouldn’t have. A few terminals powered-up in test mode. The communication on the LAN was impacted and this made the first vote a failure.
Fortunately, Enrico had an extensive experience in making systems of all kinds, and designed the network in separate sections, with the possibility of separating their power. Warning lights were also monitoring the transmission activity in each section. When a terminal went in test mode, a red LED light was active for that section. Enrico had to momentarily manually switch off the power to the section and reset all its terminals.
That night It happened 500 times, for the 500 votes, it lasted for the five hours of voting. Without the electronic voting system, the Parliament would have spent three days to complete the vote instead of five hours. Without Enrico’s quick action it would have been a total failure for Enrico, for Enzo, for Olivetti, and for the civil servant in the European Parliament that had supervised the purchase and the installation of the voting system, he was the top civil servant in the EU Parliament organization.
Olivetti was complimented for the success of the first time an electronic voting system was used in the European Parliament. Still is, 40 years later.
Enrico emigrated to the USA to repay the debt that the cost of testing the LAN at night left him, costs that the project manager in charge before Enzo did not even bother to ask the EU Parliament to be reimbursed for. Olivetti was not, and never has been, a company making systems, only devices, beautiful, still on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, but NOT systems.
The startup of a successful, financially stable small business
In 1987 Olivetti abandoned the business of Electronic Voting Systems. Enzo Costa founded in Rome the small company Eurel. They continued the maintenance and upgrading of the two voting systems. In addition to the one in the Italian Senate that Enrico had installed in Rome for Olivetti.
At the time Enrico was already in the USA.
The European Parliament is one of the most important institutions that has chosen Eurel informatica SpA for electronic voting. The collaboration began in 1987 (when Olivetti abandoned the field. ndr) and has continued in all these years until we have equipped our systems, in addition to the two hemicycles, with 25 commission rooms. Confidence in Eurel’s work has meant that over the years the hemicycle systems have been updated several times with increasingly advanced technologies. Eurel with its technicians residents in their respective offices (Strasbourg and Brussels) provides technical assistance and monitors the systems during the sessions.
From Eurel Informatica’s website
Senato della Repubblica – Votazione elettronica
The Senate of the Republic is the most representative customer for whom Eurel developed and installed the first electronic voting system for a National Parliament in the 1980s. (editor’s note: Enrico’s Elema S.p.a. did it all under a contract with Olivetti. Eurel started only in 1987 when Olivetti abandoned the business). Over all these years, Eurel has constantly updated the system for the necessary alignment with the most current technologies. Through its qualified technicians, Eurel provides technical assistance and operational supervision during the sessions.
From Eurel Informatica’s website