An article on voting machine selection in the Boston Globe, caught my interest the other day. The infamous Diebold company seems to be suing the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for improperly selecting a competitor’s voting machines. Nevermind my opinion on the quality of Diebold’s voting products, the article caught my interest because of my involvement in complex software selection projects.
According to the article, Diebold claims the office of the secretary of state failed to choose the best voting machine. My first inclination is to assume that of course Diebold would say that, it’s the competition. Presumably the office of the secretary conducted some sort of selection process and based on whatever factors it defined for the decision found that the AutoMARK machines were better suited to its needs.
Assuming there truly was a fair and accurate selection process that led to the purchasing decision then Diebold appears out-of-line. However, what was that process? The article doesn’t discuss it. Wondering if it was made public, I did some searching but didn’t have much success finding any public record of what that might be.
Sometimes one can find public RFPs but there are many different methods used in government procurement processes. Perhaps if government selection processes are conducted well, with a verifiable trail of due-diligence, they should also be consistently made a matter of public record. That would ward off the impression that anything/anyone had undermined the selection process and improperly awarded a contract.
Chatting with one of my colleagues about this issue yesterday, he mused that our company often has an easier time offering our selection methodology services and tools to “developing” nations’ government organizations than to the “developed” ones. He came from a region that might yet be considered to have a developing nation status. I asked what he meant, and to paraphrase, he replied that often when you look at nations where the government has undergone a lot of upheaval, the public has a strong perception that government corruption needs to be brought under control. So these government organizations may be more easily willing to implement selection methodologies with well defined trails for due-diligence. Whereas countries with long-standing stable governments may employ officials that don’t feel quite the same pressures.
I suppose that’s only one person’s speculation but it reflects an important point: without a well-defined and documentable selection process, you open-yourself to the impression of bias or corruption. Based on information in the Boston Globe article, I don’t think we can assume anything corrupt necessarily happened within Massachussetts’ selection process. But it seems to illustrate a fine reason for why organisations (government or not) should carefully document processes, priorities, factors for decision-making, and respondents’ capabilities during their complex selection processes.