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Open election system needs rules revision

Posted on: May 13, 2009

POLL EXEC SAYS
‘Open election system needs rules revision’
By Anna Valmero
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 09:11:00 05/13/2009

Filed Under: Elections, Eleksyon 2010, Computing & Information Technology, Government Contracts

MANILA, Philippines—Adopting an open election system (OES), as pushed by the group of information technology expert Gus Lagman, will require that the request for proposal (RFP) be revised before the system could be considered for the 2010 elections, a poll official said.

In an interview with INQUIRER.net, Commission on Elections (Comelec) spokesman James Jimenez said the OES “does not fit the current RFP defining the specification and design for poll automation” because it lacks the automated counting component.

“A new RFP is needed to fit the design of OES and for it to be implemented,” said Jimenez.

OES is “not yet being considered by Comelec” as the bidding process for the P11.2-billion poll machines is still open, with a second bidding a possibility if the first one fails, said Jimenez.

The Comelec will release a decision for the bid appeals Wednesday afternoon after it disqualified seven automation bidders last week.

The current RFP calls for the design of a poll machine or technology that implements “automated counting of ballot votes at the precinct level and transmission of the results to Comelec-designated servers” inherent to the precinct-count optical scan machines (PCOS), said Jimenez.

“When the group supporting OES has created the working system for OES—after the body requested them to make one because when they presented OES it was still a concept—the RFP is on the verge of release,” said Jimenez.

While noting the similarities of OES and PCOS in terms of automated consolidation and transmission of results, Jimenez said the lack of automated counting of votes in OES will make it prone to human tampering and fraud.

In OES, voters fill up ballots with the candidate’s name, and board of election inspectors counts the votes at precincts manually to come up with election results (ERs).Then, voting results are encoded using PCs. The Board of Election Inspections cross-checks 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.

“With poll automation, electoral fraud resulting from mis-appreciation of ballots and miscomputation of tallied voting results, common in traditional or manual elections, is prevented because you have installed mechanisms of automated counting at precinct level,” said Jimenez.

Commissioner Rene Sarmiento said that it will be “a great leap for Comelec” to automate next year’s elections because “a lot of election protests contesting the results and proclamations for local positions are filed to the Comelec en banc.”

Until now, Sarmiento said the en banc is resolving protest cases arising from the 2007 elections.

Meanwhile, Lagman said OES will require only P4 billion for the purchase of PC-based canvassing units and network setup. His group has created the election management software system, which he said they can offer to Comelec for free.

“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 Lagman, who also heads TransparentElections.org.

Responding to this, Jimenez said the Comelec has defended the budget in both chambers so they need not explain it again.

The poll body plans to spend the supplemental budget of P11,301,790,000 to lease and deploy 82,000 PCOS machines, which will automate the counting of ballots at precincts and consolidation of votes, including the transmission of voting results to servers.

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