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Use open system in 2010—ex-poll chief

Posted on: February 24, 2009

http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/breakingnews/infotech/view/20090209-188266/Use-open-system-in-2010ex-poll-chief

By Anna Valmero
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 12:14:00 02/09/2009

Filed Under: Elections, Eleksyon 2010, Technology (general), Internet

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections should consider the use of open system solutions (OES) for the automation of the 2010 elections, a former chairman has proposed.

Christian Monsod made the call as Congress would be deliberating on the proposed P11.3 billion supplemental budget for the automation of the 2010 elections.

“The choice of automation technology and its successful implementation is key to the credibility of the elections,” said election lawyer Monsod during a forum of the Center for People’s Rights and Participation (CPRP) Monday.

Monsod stressed that the proposed OES-based automated election system, combined with an optical mark recognition (OMR) technology, could cost government about P8 billion for the equipment and operations. If Comelec prefers getting the OES automated election system alone, it will cost around P4 billion.

Comelec’s projected cost of P11.3 billion involves leasing 80,000 precinct count optical scan machines.

Monsod admitted that he was disappointed over the automation plans of the Comelec since it had been based on the money being allocated and not on the “best technology,” available.

“Holding the 2010 elections is part of the national reform process and the choice of technology is key to achieve credible elections. Why should we spend P11.3 billion when a P4 or P8 billion more effective solution would do?” said Monsod.

Comelec chairman Jose Melo declined to comment on the issue as of posting time.

OES only requires computers to be deployed in precincts and offices of municipal, provincial and national board of canvassers. OES combines manual voting and counting of votes at the precincts, with automated canvassing of election results using computers at the municipal, provincial and national board of canvassers, said Monsod.

Monsod said the PCs acquired for implementing the OES system could then be left to the schools for students’ use. Therefore, this will help solve the lack of computers in public schools.

Aside from computers, the OES-OMR combo system requires OMR units to be deployed in school tabulation centers.

“I urge the Comelec not to rush into automation so we won’t forget the vulnerabilities we are dealing with,” said Monsod, as he noted technical problems and staffing, voters’ education, teachers’ training, logistics and storage associated with leasing the election technology machines.

Monsod said automating elections in stages would be a more “cost-effective approach.”

He also stressed that automating the canvassing procedures at the national level was important in reducing fraud and cheating on the voting results for senatorial and presidential posts.

Technology veteran Augusto Lagman, head of TransparentElections.org, said manual voting and counting of votes at the precincts was inherent in the OES and OES-OMR combo automated election systems.

Lagman said manual voting and counting of votes would be “the simplest and most transparent” way of consolidating voting data given that poll watchers and the general public could see the how each vote would be tallied.

Lagman said it would take 25-40 days before winners of national elections were proclaimed.

“Based on an analysis of the manual tallying-canvassing time line, precinct tallying takes only 5 to 12 hours while municipal, provincial and national canvassing takes 25 to 40 days. From here, we can see which part of the process must be automated,” said Lagman.

Under the OES system, votes are cast and tallied manually at the precinct level. Election results are then brought to a school for encoding by volunteers. Board of election inspectors (BEIs) will then validate the encoded election results before posting it to the web. BEI certify the results using digital signatures.

City and municipal board of canvassers will have access to the public database for precinct voting results to produce the statement of votes and certificates of canvass. This also applies to provincial and national board of canvassers.

Lagman explained that interested parties like the media and political watchdogs could now access and print the results available on the public database. This will allow them to process data independently. The voting results can also be accessed via mobile phones, allowing poll watchdogs to compare the available results from the database with the election returns posted on the door of each precinct.

“If everybody has copy or access to the voting results data, it will be extremely difficult to manipulate the results,” said Lagman.

Lagman said the Computer Science Department of the University of the Philippines Diliman had been tapped to develop the open source software for the proposed OES.

Lagman argued that open source software could safeguard against tampering of the code. And since it is open source software, the developer communities can check and improve the software code, unlike proprietary software that is only available to the vendor.

In the proposed OES-OMR system, voters shade ovals near the names of desired candidates printed on the ballot, said Lagman.

The ballots are then collected and fed into the OMR machines housed in voting tabulation centers within a school. The BEI validation of election results prior to posting on the Internet will still follow the same procedures required by Comelec.

Lagman admitted that the challenge to deploying an OES or OES-OMR combo system would be getting thousands of encoders as volunteers. Misconception that this system is not fully automated since it still uses manual tallying might also pose problems for its acceptance.

Monsod said the proposed OES was presented on Nov. 12, 2008 to Comelec chairman Jose Melo and to the other commissioners.

Monsod said that Melo found the proposal good but said that the poll body would consider OES if the supplemental budget for poll automation would be disapproved.

Last year, the Comelec announced plans to adopt direct recording electronic (DRE) technology that would cost about P21 billion. But it later opted to use a combination of DRE-OMR system for P13 billion. This year, the Comelec’s supplemental budget is down to P11.3 billion.


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