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COMELEC CHIEF SAYS ‘No more debates on poll automation’

Posted on: April 14, 2009

COMELEC CHIEF SAYS
‘No more debates on poll automation’

By Anna Valmero
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 14:07:00 04/14/2009

Filed Under: Elections, Technology (general), Inquirer Politics

MANILA, Philippines—Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Jose Melo urged that groups trying to sway the public from trusting the poll body’s automation plan to put doubts about its plan to rest.

“There may be legitimate concerns [on automation] but some suspicions paint a scenario na hindi dapat paniwalaan ang automation [that automation should not to be trusted]. It is a closed issue whether or not to push through with automation. We at the Comelec believe it’s about time that we trust the automated system for elections to prevent dagdag-bawas [vote padding and shaving],” Melo told reporters Tuesday.

The statement came after reports last week quoted some groups urging the Comelec to rethink its automation plan.

Last week, CPU published its warning on its website, saying that “if not done properly, automated large scale cheating could happen with the Comelec’s plan for automated elections.”

TransparentElections.org represented by technology veteran Augusto Lagman has urged the Comelec to adopt open election system (OES), which combines manual voting and tallying of votes at precincts and automated canvassing from municipal to higher levels of boards of canvassers.

“We are confident that the poll automation project will pave way for clean, honest elections because you reduce human errors like when banks use money counting machines for its operations,” said Melo.

He said automation would lessen human intervention on the election process, such as counting and tallying of votes, where human errors, deliberate or unintentional via misreading of candidate names or miscalculation of tallied votes, could lead to inaccuracies in the election results.

Melo assured the Comelec would implement strict certification process of the machines operation accuracy to be followed as prescribed in the automation law.

If the certification process fails, Comelec will implement manual elections given the lack of time to repeat the procurement process alongside preparations for the 2010 polls.

“Sinasabi pa na nila na masyadong malaki ang budget natin [Some groups are saying the budget for poll automation is huge]—P11.3 billion pesos—but from the very start the congressmen and senators are saying: ‘You get the best’,” said Melo to reporters Tuesday.

Melo added that most senators oppose the implementation of hybrid voting system or partial automation system, such as OES and hybrid polls.

Melo added: “If you implement partial automation like OES which costs P4 billion, on top of that you add P5 billion pesos—the average cost for conducting manual polls.”

Under OES, voters use traditional way of voting by writing names of candidates on ballots. Members of the board of election inspectors then proceed with manual counting, tallying of votes and preparation of election results (ERs).

Volunteer encoders would then input in a system the ERs, which once certified by BEI as accurate and correct, would be transmitted to a Comelec designated server for consolidation and to a mirror website for public viewing.

This system, Melo said which employs manual counting and tallying of votes at precincts, was still prone to vote padding and shaving at the local precinct level.

On March 4, the Congress has approved the P11.3 billion supplemental budget request of Comelec to lease and deploy at least 80,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines in clustered precincts nationwide in 2010.

Melo noted the Comelec lowered its budget request for poll automation from the initial P21 billion pesos meant to buy direct recording electronic (DRE) machines, where votes are cast via touch screen or mechanical interfaces activated by the voter.

After receiving feedback that the budget is too big, Comelec requested P14 billion for a mixed DRE and PCOS before submitting a final request for P11.3 billion.

Comelec opted to use PCOS, following recommendations by the Comelec Advisory Council.

Comelec commissioner Rene Sarmiento and executive director Jose Tolentino said the adoption of PCOS machines would facilitate the transition from manual to automated elections system.

“This is revolutionary but is not an abrupt departure from the traditional voting system Filipinos are used to do where they fill up ballots but this time, they shade ovals near the printed names of the candidates they want to vote,” said Sarmiento.

The 2010 poll automation project is touted one of the biggest in the world, said Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez in a separate interview.

In the last 15 years, efforts to automate the elections failed with the last in 2004 resulting in mothballed poll machines, which is still costing government around P30 million a year to store.

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