Automation hearing bogged down
Today’s hearing before the Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms started pretty well. Senator Koko Pimentel led off by asking Chairman Sixto Brillantes to recount the steps taken by the electoral management body to address the various issues raised against the PCOS machines, in light of the COMELEC’s recent decision on the matter.
Unfortunately, as the Chairman spoke, off to his right came rather disturbing sounds of vehement disagreement, barks of derision, and all-around heckling. Off-mic, for sure, but loud enough that everyone heard it over the Chairman’s voice. Certainly loud enough to craft an auditory landscape similar to what one would expect from a raucous public shouting match where the rightness of one’s position is decided based on who out-hoots who.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the convincing power of a well-timed snide remark, and I have been known to occasionally throw my arms up in the air in mock exasperation, wielding that gesture like a knife i’m about to slide between the ribs of my opponent’s arguments. But I had hoped that today would be different. I had hoped that the Senate Committee hearing would be a forum for ventilating arguments a little more substantial than ‘why should we talk to the COMELEC?’
Worse, also in evidence today was the hit and run tactic so typical of those who have very little to back up their allegations. You know the drill:
“This is not just about glitches, but about the violation of laws!”
“What law did we violate?”
“The UV lights! The law requires that the machines must be able to detect and reject fake ballots.”
“Do you know that the ballots have barcodes that the machine can read and use to determine if the ballot is fake?”
“Well … *crickets chirp* yes, but the barcodes are NOT VISIBLE to the voter!!!”
“Madame, the UV ink on the ballots are NOT visible to the voter either.”
“Well, what about the transmission of results! The machines had prob-”
“Wait, we’re talking about detecting fake ballots -”
HIT; and when the target isn’t cowed into silence; RUN in a different direction.
This sort of strategy really just reinforces my belief that some quarters are not really interested in getting the answers to their questions. I guess the fame you get from slaying one giant kinda gets to your head and you wanna do it again. Unfortunately, sometimes, the giants you think you’re going after turn out to just windmills.
That was pretty much the tone of almost the entire hearing. Fortunately, the Chairman of the Committee – Senator Pimentel – was pretty focused on getting the information he had asked for: what has the COMELEC done about these allegations. UNfortunately, the COMELEC kept getting sidetracked into answering individuals who, as the Chairman put it, were really just asking the same questions all over again. Heck, the COMELEC was even roped into the whole source code argument again.
Along the way, with the discussion seeming to dead-end everytime the COMELEC offered an explanation for anything, Senate President JPEnrile finally weighed in. It seems that the Senate President was sensing a trend towards rolling back automation, and he spoke out unequivocally against it.
Of course, that sobered everyone up. But it didn’t prevent further non-sequiturs.
At one point, one of the worthies assembled in that hall, direly pronounced that more election protests were filed under the automated election system. True enough. It’s just that, one might wonder what the point of that statement was. First of all, the COMELEC did predict that after the 2010 elections, there would be an increase in the number of protest cases filed. This was contrary to the fake hype about how automation would be the death knell for election lawyering. As we explained it then, the AES was so new that it was inevitable that the results would be challenged. No one would’ve accepted such a radical departure from traditional elections – and most certainly not those candidates who felt that they’d been cheated out of a victory. So, we EXPECTED an increase in the number of election cases filed.
However – and this is the important thing – what matters is not how many protests were filed, but HOW the protests fared. As the COMELEC Chairman pointed out, the protests are falling one by one as the recounts are proving that the election results reported by the PCOS squared with the election results arrived at via a manual count of the ballots.
And here is where it gets surreal.
After broadly insinuating that the election results via the AES were somehow flawed and untrustworthy, objections were actually raised to the conduct of a manual recount! This was remarkable – and deserving of an exclamation point – for two reasons: first, it was precisely the critics of automation that demanded that there be manual verification of election results electronically arrived at. The intrepid Dean Jorge Bocobo once even advocated a 100% parallel manual count. I don’t know if Dean will remember but it was after an episode of the Explainer, while he, MLQ3 and I stood on the steps of the ABS-CBN studios, that he got really excited about that idea, saying that it was the best way to prove the accuracy of the PCOS.
And second, one wonders how it would solve anything if you tried to validate results generated by the AES by simply running it again through the same AES. That idea must have either been sheer genius of a scale inaccessible to my inadequate mind, or it was master level trolling. Or as they say in the movies … that’s so -
Too bad, though, that the discussions bogged down. Everyone could have really benefited from the clarity that the Senator sought to achieve with that hearing. In the end, the Committee instructed the COMELEC to just submit a memorandum detailing everything that’s been done to address the issues raised against the PCOS. Which, I suppose, is as good an outcome as one can hope for, given the current state of affairs.