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Understanding the poll automation plan

Posted on: May 28, 2009

Understanding the poll automation plan

By Anna Valmero
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 18:01:00 05/28/2009

Filed Under: Technology (general), Elections

MANILA, Philippines—With less than a year before the May 10, 2010 elections, the Commission on Elections is working on a tight schedule to procure the technology to automate the 2010 polls, as it comes to the final leg of the bidding process for the P11.2 billion automation project.

As of this writing, lone qualifying bidder, which is a consortium of Smartmatic and Total Information Management (TIM), is conducting a demonstration of its machines and the different components needed to run an automated election as part of a technical evaluation required by the poll body.

Special Bids and Awards committee (SBAC) chairman Ferdinand Rafanan has said the successful demonstration and technical evaluation of the bidder’s poll machines and automation system is crucial since it would gauge the bidder’s capability to provide a working system for the 2010 elections.”

Comelec will automate the 2010 election polls using 82,200 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines deployed in polling precincts nationwide.

PCOS is a technology that uses an optical scanner which reads marked ballots fed into the machine.

At the close of polls on May, the PCOS units are expected to count votes, generate Election Returns (ERs) and electronically transmit the consolidated results to Comelec designated servers, according to Comelec executive director Jose Tolentino.

Similar to manual elections where voters fill up ballots, voters will still use special ballots but this time, they will shade ovals near the names of local and national candidates pre-printed on the ballot, Tolentino said.

While the main technology for poll automation involves the use of the PCOS machines, other components include the election management system (EMS) and the consolidation/canvassing system (CCS), in addition to the transmission component, added Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez.

Tolentino said the EMS configures the programs and instructions to be loaded into PCOS machines via memory cards.

The EMS also configures the 1,600 paper ballot faces to be printed uniquely per municipality since a ballot for automated elections contains the pre-printed names of all local and national candidates, said Rafanan.

Under existing poll automation laws, the National Printing Office or the Bangko Sentral ng Pillipinas are the only agencies allowed to print and reproduce the ballots as configured by the EMS, he added.

To operate its PCOS machines, several security keys containing digital encryption and passwords are needed to operate the machines, said a Smartmatic-TIM representative.

If a security key is misplaced, it will not open any machine since digital authentication from other keys are needed to run the machines in compliance to terms set by Comelec, according to Smartmatic-TIM.

The PCOS machines will be impossible to tamper with using malicious code since the machines will not include USB ports to prevent rigging of the machine, added Smartmatic-TIM. This hopes to allay fears that their system is prone to hacking.

At close of polls, the machines will print the ERs while simultaneously transmitting the consolidated votes from the precinct to Comelec servers and canvassing centers in the municipal or city, provincial and national board of canvassers.

Once the consolidated votes from precincts are transmitted to the board of canvassers, the CCS will consolidate the votes before transmitting them for canvassing. Based on this process, a municipal CCS will consolidate all votes from a number of precincts before transmitting them to the provincial canvassers and later to the national canvassing centers.

There will be a cellular modem in each PCOS machine that can transmit data via existing mobile networks to canvassing machines, said Smartmatic-TIM.

In case of areas without cellular network coverage, Smartmatic said it would use regular landlines and satellite transmission, as part of a contingency plan.

For its demonstration, Smartmatic-TIM used the Globe cellular network to transmit consolidated voting data from a PCOS machine to a canvassing server.

For auditing, the machine can print out reports. There is also a soft copy that shows operation logs, ERs and scanned ballots stored within a machine. This data is encrypted and stored in a non-rewritable removable storage card.

In a scenario when there is transmission sabotage, the non-rewritable storage card can be delivered to another precinct where transmission is possible.

Jimenez said poll automation would prevent dagdag-bawas (vote padding and vote shaving) usually associated with misreading of candidate’s name during appreciation of ballots or miscalculation of tallied votes in manual elections.

Winners can also be declared in less than 48 hours.

As of this writing, the SBAC Technical Working Group is conducting stress tests on the poll machines of Smartmatic-TIM.

The Smartmatic-TIM consortium has passed at least 19 of the 26 technical criteria since technical evaluation started on Wednesday.

The demonstration and technical evaluation started “without prejudice to pending appeals of other bidders” and to prevent further delay, according to Rafanan.

Smartmatic-TIM should pass the technical evaluation and the post qualification of eligibility documents to bag the automation project, said Rafanan.

Comelec aims to award the automation contract by first or second week of June, which is three weeks late from its original schedule.

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