Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Comelec to test Smartmatic-TIM machines, automated election naysayers dared to witness

A couple of noisy groups, one from the University of the Philippines, has been trying to raise issues against the automation of the 2010 elections.  

They have gained adherents among bloggers and among them was Tonyo Cruz.

One point they've raised is the possibility that automated elections could lead to automated cheating.  Without proof of concept and without showing that any automated election system could be hacked, the group has insisted on its position to bar automated election until they have scrutinized the automated election system to be implemented.

They have asked for the public distribution and scrutiny of the source code of the automated election machines that will be used.  They have also come out saying that the ballots (machine readable as it is) be manually counted at the precincts and that the canvassing be the only part of the election process to be automated.  At least one former Comelec Commissioner, not known to have conducted elections free of fraud, has even espoused the use of the same manual counting process and the use of indelible ink in lieu of the biometric system.

At every momentous turn of our nation's history, we have often found naysayers who raise every bogey imaginable in an effort to keep us from discovering what lies ahead just beyond the horizon.  And yet, when dared to look and discover for themselves, they become scarce and make up all manner of reasons why they shouldn't even look.

Some of these people even claim expertise in a field of science that demands rigorous examination and yet they become squeamish at the sight of the possibility of their favored hypothesis being proven wrong.

The Philippine's Commission on Election has just declared Smartmatic and Total Information Management Corporation as having the single complying bid for the contract to automate the 2010 polls.

The next step will be to test their automated election system to make sure that it complies with the requirements for accuracy and security demanded by the Amended Automated Election Law or RA 9369 which was authored by Senator Richard Gordon.

We are closer to doing away with Hello Garci and this perhaps, if anything, should salve the wounds left by the controversy as we have a very real possibility to doing away with wholesale election fraud that happens every three years.

The challenge for these groups who are against poll automation is to witness the Comelec's testing of the automated election machines that will be used in the 2010 polls and then raise their objections if the machines do not comply with the requirements set forth in RA 9369.

Here is an excerpt of the Philippine Daily Inquirer report:

MANILA, Philippines—The Commission on Elections’ bidding committee Tuesday announced that the consortium of Smartmatic International and Total Information Management Corp. (Smartmatic-TIM) had “the single complying bid” for the contract to automate the 2010 polls.

This paves the way for a demonstration of the company’s election machines on Wednesday.

At the same time, the Special Bids and Awards Committee (SBAC) stressed that the announcement was made without prejudice to the consortium of AMA Group Holdings and Elections Systems and Software International (AMA-ES&S), which is expected to file a motion for reconsideration of its bid.

“Wherefore without prejudice to the motion that AMA-ES&S will file, the SBAC now declares Smartmatic-TIM the bidder that submitted the single complying calculated bid,” the four-page resolution said.

“We therefore order that Smartmatic-TIM undergo post-qualification proceedings immediately and that its machines be forthwith tested to determine compliance with the criteria set for one worthy of this historic leap in Philippine elections,” the SBAC said.

SBAC chair Ferdinand Rafanan said declaring the firms with the complying bids would hasten the bidding process that has been delayed by two weeks.

Smartmatic-TIM, which submitted a bid of P7.2 billion, was the only bidder out of seven that hurdled the eligibility, technical, and financial screenings.

The bid of AMA-ES&S was reconsidered last weekend when the SBAC ruled that documents it filed in lieu of a certificate of acceptance from its United States client would be acceptable. The company was given up to Thursday to complete its documentation and file an appeal.

Junked with finality

The SBAC, however, junked with finality the appeals of the consortia led by Sequoia Voting Systems and Gilat Satellite Network to reconsider their bids.

According to SBAC, Sequoia failed to produce an import permit while Gilat’s technical bid lacked material on ballot security, among others.

“No further motions or requests or clarifications shall be entertained,” the bidding team said.

The SBAC said it would proceed with the testing of Smartmatic-TIM’s voting and counting machines.

Rafanan said information technology and software experts from the Comelec, Department of Science and Technology, and other agencies would check the machines against 26 criteria, including its accuracy, power capacity, and security features.

Meanwhile, various groups continued to air doubts and criticism of the counting technology chosen by the Comelec.

At a forum Tuesday sponsored by the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG), a software expert from the Ateneo de Manila University said it was not impossible for the voting and counting machines to be “corrupted by malicious software or a virus.”

Retired computer science professor Pablo Manalastas raised fears that “a goon from a party” could insert a flash disk into the Comelec’s Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) system and “replace the running program.”

He urged the poll body to check the program a day before election day. He said this was a vital step that takes only “a few seconds.”

CenPEG, a policy think-tank based in the University of the Philippines, issued a statement saying the Comelec’s chosen technology “does not fully comply with the principle of secret voting and public counting.” It said the system lacked transparency and deprived voters their right to observe and check the counting.

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