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Gordon: Credible tech in 2010 elections

Posted on: February 25, 2009

http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/breakingnews/infotech/view/20081120-173341/Gordon-Credible-tech-in-2010-elections

By Anna Valmero
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 11:45:00 11/20/2008

Filed Under: Technology (general), Elections, Politics, Computing & Information Technology

MAKATI CITY, Philippines — The upcoming 2010 national elections will require technology that is credible, cost-effective and feasible for deployment in the country, Senator Richard Gordon said.

“I want security in every step of the election process,” added Gordon who is co-chairman of the joint Congressional Oversight Committee on poll automation.

In an interview with INQUIRER.net, Gordon disclosed some of his concerns amid the current discussions in the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on what technology to use for the 2010 elections.

Comelec is mandated to work with an advisory council composed of various stakeholders in government and private sector.

Gordon said the election automated system should have paper audit trail of ballots to reduce vote buying through “kadena.”

He also said there should be ample protection of software source code so computers for counting cannot be hacked and thus tampering of votes or “dagdag-bawas” can be prevented.

Vendors recently showcased their technology during an exhibition at the Election Technology Conference.

Some of the technologies that were displayed include optical mark recognition (OMR), direct-recording electronic machine (DRE), among others. Both technologies were pilot-tested in the elections in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) last August.

OMR reads data from marked ballots using scanning technology and transfers data through a network.

DRE, on the other hand, uses touch-screen technology for casting votes. Voters only need to choose from menu of candidates. Once they have picked their choice, the DRE prints a copy of their ballot. Their vote is then stored in DRE system for consolidation and transmission to a central location.

Gordon said, “It is important to find out what technology will work best in the country,” as he referred to the showcased technologies during the exhibit.

Based on his brief inspection of the election technologies offered, he said the solutions should provide ease of deployment in terms of logistics and cost.

Comparing it to the current manual election system, Gordon said automated elections in 2010 will pave the way for “accurate, easy and tamper-proof” elections. “Those cheaters do not have a PhD yet in automated polls, which they have in manual elections,” he added.

He also urged Comelec to consider redundancy before they acquire technology.

Gordon said technologies should be evaluated on whether they can be used even after the elections.

He suggested that computers used after the elections could be left to the schools that have served as voting precincts.

“Though this is a wish-list, we get more bang for the buck [as we] benefit from our investment in [technology for the] elections and [later] in education,” he said.

Gordon said he is drafting a bill for early elections in 2010, which aims to cut costs and to secure voting results earlier in areas of conflict like ARMM.

“When we have automated polls, I do not want people at the polling centers interfering with voters like what happened in previous ARMM elections. I believe Filipinos are smart [enough] to participate in an automated election,” Gordon said.

Meanwhile, Comelec commissioner Rene Sarmiento said in a statement the Philippines can learn lessons from the recent U.S. automated polls, which also had early elections.

He cited the early voting done in some US states accounted for one-third of the total votes cast for president, up from 14 percent in 2000.

Comelec has said that 40 million Filipino voters will participate in the upcoming presidential elections in 2010.

A total of P21 billion of supplemental budget will be needed for the automated machines for 2010, said Ambassador Henrietta de Villa, chairperson of Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), also a member of the advisory council to Comelec.

De Villa said that such “investment” will prevent vote buying and vote selling, which can also pave the way for cleaner elections in the future.

Gordon suggested that the automated poll election system will work better if a national ID system based on biometrics is in place.

However, in an earlier report in INQUIRER.net, Comelec chairman Jose Melo said biometrics screening might not be used in the 2010 elections because it is too expensive.

However, according to the same INQUIRER.net story, Comelec was quoted as saying that it might be able to use biometrics at the start of voters’ registration on December 1.

Nine vendors participated in the simulated testing of automated poll solutions on the third day of the conference on November 19.

Of the nine vendors, two vendors were suppliers in the recent US elections. These were the Election Systems and Software Inc. which consolidated 50 percent of the total votes cast during the US elections and DRS Data Services Ltd.

A Filipino homegrown solution, called “Botong Pinoy,” developed by Mega Group of Companies, was also at the event.

During the conference, about 150 respondents from different sectors of the society participated in focus group discussions (FGDs) on technologies tested during the event.

The respondents eventually noted that while most technologies promise to speed up vote counting, “credibility and transparency” remained as paramount concerns.

Michael Barredo, president of International Blind Sports Confederation and Geraldine Ruiz, executive director III of National Council On Disability Affairs, said they hope election technologies would also allow for disabled persons to participate in the elections without help from relatives.

“In my opinion, it is likely to have a combination of DRE and OMR technologies for the upcoming elections like in ARMM,” said De Villa.

She added that the results from the focus group discussion will provide additional research material for Comelec to identify which election technology is fit to deploy in 2010.

The conference was organized by nonprofit organization International Foundation for Electoral Systems, in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Comelec Advisory Council and Comelec.

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