By Joe Espiritu
As this article is written, the Commission on Elections and the winning bidder of the automation project are still ironing out the problems on how the systems is to be installed. To think of it, the bidding had been conducted, the winning bidder had proven their capability of installing a running system. The system had undergone tests and after the tests had been completed, a member of the winning consortium decided the back out. The reason for backing out is that the other half wants the control of the project funds.
We find the reason strange. Before they entered into the negotiation, the consortium, which is composed of the Total Information Management Corporation and the Smartmatic International Corporation decided to bid for the project as a single judicial entity. They won and was awarded the bid not as separate corporations but as a single bidder. When the project is to be finalized, the Total Information Management Corporation decided to back. Legal fireworks is about to explode.
Complete automation or computerization of an electoral process will need the function of two systems, the hardware set up and the software component. The hardware system is composed of machines which are responsible for data capture, verification, storage, retrieval, processing, transmission and reporting. In short, all the mechanical aspects of computerization are handled by the hardware component. The data capture, verification, storage, retrieval and processing may be localized, that means done in the voting precincts. Or it may be done in some centralized stations like municipalities and provincial capitols.
The voting precinct would need networked computers with optical readers for data capture, central processing units or CPUs, for data checking, storage, retrieval and processing, visual display terminals or monitors for visual checking and modems for data transmission.. Voting precinct hardware is to be physically secure, unauthorized handling prohibited. Modems are to electronically transmit data through dedicated lines, identity of sending units identified and verified before transmission acceptance. All of these are the responsibility of Smartmatic.
Since computers like all automated machines need operating instructions or programs, the software components of a computerized system in order that the system will properly function, this will have to be provided by software specialists. There will be programs to test the validity of inputted documents, rejecting ballots made out by voters not in the voters list in the precinct computer, rejecting votes with wrong or extra candidates, or those not passing the logical parameters or using invalid passwords, programs preventing attempts to alter operating instructions, flashing and sounding alarms when the computerized system security is breached. All these are supplied by the Total Information Management Corporation.
This means, an automated system must be a function of both hardware and software components. A well designed system is difficult to break in even by talented hackers. Only the uninformed think that computerized networks can easily be penetrated. If their opinion is true, hackers could have easily robbed all Automatic Teller Machines or ATMs in the country by operating the keyboards of ATMs.
The Comelec as client and Smartmatic - Total Information Management consortium as bidders must come to terms fast. The present set of Comelec officials has nothing to lose but prestige but the bidders might lose not only their shirts but their businesses as well since they will be blacklisted by the government in case the deal will not fall through. Even if they may escape blacklisting no one will ever do business with them jointly or individually..