ES&S’ troubles

The Philippine Star carried an article today (8.18) about how ES&S is supposed to have “submitted a proposal to automate the 2010 presidential polls here.” The article quotes Halalang Marangal head honcho Roberto Verzola.

Of course, the article subsequently says:

Roberto Versola, secretary general of election watchdog Halalang Marangal (Halal), told The STAR that Election System and Software (ES&S) is among 13 firms that sent a proposal to the Commission on Elections late last year.

… which, to my mind makes a world of difference.

First off, it’s true that ES&S sent information regarding it’s election solutions to the Advisory Council late last year, but it was not a ‘proposal’  per se, but a response to a request for information (RFI) sent out by the Council in the course of preparing its recommendation to the COMELEC, regarding pilot testing automation in 2007. This request for information, as the name suggests, simply asked for relevant data on election solutions being offered by vendors.

So, what ES&S submitted wasn’t a “proposal,” it was a response to an RFI; and it wasn’t to “automate the 2010 presidential polls” either. The RFI was for purposes of recommending (or not) automation in the 2007 elections.

So where did this come from?

It turned out that ES&S also has a pending bid to automate the next Philippine elections, Versola said.

As Verzola himself commented on this blog a few days ago: “As usual, it is hard to make judgments simply from newspaper quotes.” I totally agree, so I’m gonna just say that there are no biddings yet for the automation of the next Philippine elections, be it the B&SK polls, the ARMM elections, or the 2010 Presidentials.

The election watchdog official earlier warned against possible flaws in the computer machines that will be used in the 2010 presidential election.

If the’warning’ is the result of apprehension over ES&S participating in the bidding (whenever that happens), I would have to say that it’s premature. I was interviewed today by someone who kept asking me if ES&S would be allowed to participate in the bidding because of what happened in the States. I suppose she wanted me to say ‘no.’ On the other hand, she may have wanted me to say ‘yes’ so that the headline tomorrow will read “COMELEC may use defective machines for 2010” or some such, as aptly portrayed by this Star cartoon:

sf.jpg I want to avoid headlines like that, of course, but I truly fail to see how ES&S can be prevented from participating in the bidding if it meets all the requirements. After all, participating in the bidding is a far cry from being awarded the contract.

All bids are submitted to technical evaluations that are designed to reveal if there are any flaws in the system. And unless i miss my guess very badly, RA9369 – the law that amended RA 8436, the automation law – has added a whole lot of teeth to the technical group tasked with the evaluation of whatever system the COMELEC eventually procures. So, before the BAC even dreams of recommending any system, we can all be assured that nearly everyone qualified to have a say – or even just kibitz – will have had a chance to provide its input to the decision making process.

I also told her that we would have to hear what ES&S has to say for itself. Of course, that might spawn reactions of its own. Like, what more proof do I need after Dan Rather effectively skewered the Ivotronic?  Just off the top of my head, I figure the bids and awards committee would really like to know what went wrong, and whether or not, after 2 and a half years, what went wrong hasn’t been remedied yet to the satisfaction of everyone.

In any case, all of that is pretty irrelevant for now since, like I said, there are no biddings yet for 2010.

Halal reported that cheating would be easier if the election is automated because it could not easily be detected.

“It would be hard to detect cheating if election will be computerized,” Versola said.

This is arguable. Again, I don’t know what Verzola actually said and in what context he said it, but ‘hard’ doesn’t mean ‘impossible.’ And I do know that since Halal isn’t against automation per se and that Verzola is an expert at FOSS, I’m certain he knows what I mean and that he has pretty good ideas how to protect against cheating even with in an automation scenario. I truly hope he shares his insight with the COMELEC during the preparations for automation in 2010.


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