IT GROUP TO COMELEC ‘Why pay P11.3B for poll automation?’
Posted April 10, 2009on:
By Anna Valmero
First Posted 17:15:00 04/09/2009
Filed Under: Elections, Technology (general)
MANILA, Philippines—A group composed mostly of information and communications technology (ICT) professionals challenged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to explain to the public why it has to spend P11.2 billion in automating the 2010 elections when it can implement an open election system (OES).
“The Comelec must explain to the public why they have to pay P7.3 billion more for an inferior system using precinct count optical scan (PCOS) when they could adopt OES which is more transparent and costs only P4 billion?” asked TransparentElections.org head Gus Lagman.
Comelec chairman Jose Melo said in earlier reports that the poll body would lease and deploy 80,000 units of PCOS in automating the 2010 synchronized national and local elections.
In OES, voters fill up ballots with the candidate’s name and board of election inspectors count the votes at precincts manually to come up with election results (ERs).Then, voting results are encoded using PCs. The Board of Election Inspections crosscheck the encoded data with the precinct count. The ERs are then electronically transmitted to a secured Internet site for consolidation and a public mirror site, said Lagman, who was with the National Movement for Free Elections.
Lagman reiterated three reasons why the PCOS was inferior to OES: it is less transparent, more expensive to implement and could result in failure of elections.
Lagman said the OES system employs manual voting and electronic transmission of results to a network, noting that the only difference with a PCOS was that the latter would electronically count ballots.
Comelec, however, would spend P7.3 billion more to automate the counting of votes at polling precincts, which under the traditional election system only took an average of 12 hours, Lagman said.
“Why spend more money to automate an already established open, transparent process—public counting of votes at precinct levels?” said Lagman.
Automation should be done during canvassing at the municipal, provincial and national levels, which took up to 40 days and where vote padding and vote shaving usually happened, he added.
The IT expert added the PCOS machines, which implements “secret counting” of votes using program codes and algorithm, was not to be trusted and cited several states in the United States veering away from using poll machines and have gone back to the manual voting system.
“Since the machines will be linked via a network, there is a possibility to download malicious code into the 80,000 units of counting machines. I am not worried about external hacking, I am all worried about internal rigging of these machines,” said Lagman in a phone interview.
Lagman noted anybody or somebody with the network key could spread malicious code from the network server to the machines, which could result in machine malfunction.
Machine malfunction could also result during transport of machines from Manila to different areas, especially those in far-flung areas, Lagman added.
If there was a misaligned calibration, the machine could not properly function and read marks on the ballots, leading to potential failure of elections.
He added under Comelec’s poll automation plan, only 1,000 ballots for voters plus seven for BEI members would be allotted per each polling precinct or one ballot per voter only. If ballots gets rejected by the PCOS machine due to smudge, the voter would not be given another one and thus could be disenfranchised.
Citing the Comelec Advisory Council report on the 2008 elections at the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Lagman said the “IT infrastructure of the Philippines is inadequate” and added the country might be rushing to poll automation when it is not yet ready.
Meanwhile, Lagman noted the OES is not only a concept.
He noted a group of software developers from the University of the Philippines Department of Computer Science headed by Jaime Caro, developed a working prototype of election management software that could transmit and consolidate voting results from precincts to the national board of canvassers.
“We presented the software to the Comelec Advisory Council and even offered to five it to them for free but we did not get any response from them,” said Lagman.
Lagman added he told Comelec to use the OES as a fallback system in case the poll automation project gets delayed, adding he was willing to present to them the software prototype should they be invited to meet with the Comelec en banc.
“They said OES violates the law because has not been tested but if you analyze OES and PCOS are the same–you employ manual voting and automated canvassing using PCs. The good thing about OES is you can have poll automation at one-third the cost of the Comelec budget,” said Lagman.
When asked if there is time to adopt the OES, Lagman said: “I am hoping our government officials will change their minds and adopt OES. It is never too late to do the right thing.”