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COMELEC CHIEF SAYS Poll automation can fail due to human factors

Posted on: June 18, 2009

COMELEC CHIEF SAYS
Poll automation can fail due to human factors

By Anna Valmero
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 12:38:00 06/18/2009

Filed Under: Technology (general), Elections

MANILA, Philippines—The Commission on Elections (Comelec) stressed on Thursday that the 2010 automated elections could fail due to “human intervention” and not because of technology.

“Failure [of automated elections in 2010] will not be because of the machines but because of men. If those with bad intentions want to cheat through some sort of ballot snatching, that is where there can be failure of elections in a particular area but I don’t think it can happen nationwide,” Comelec chairman Jose Melo explained in Filipino and English.

Critics of the poll body’s automation project fear that problems might occur in the transmission of voting results from precincts to Comelec if transmission networks or cellsites are sabotaged.

Critics also point out that malwares or malicious software programs could target the automation system, which could lead to wholesale vote padding and shaving or again, sabotage.

Melo, however, dismissed these fears, stressing that the winning bidder for the poll automation project has passed its rigorous technical evaluation, including an end-to-end demonstration of its poll machines as well as the transmission of election results using a public telecommunications network. The machines were also tested for accuracy.

The consortium of Netherlands-based Smartmatic and local partner Total Information Management won the bid. Their bid was pegged at P7.2 billion.

“The laws of probability will apply here. If there will be machines that will be sabotaged or ballots snatched, I think of the 80,000 machines, not all will fail—probably less than or about a hundred but not all,” said Melo.

Melo said a poll machine is expected to process about 1,000 ballots from four clustered poll precincts.

In a separate interview, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said the 2010 elections “is no different with previous elections in terms of camps trying to implement electoral fraud to serve someone’s purposes.”

“The problems are always there during elections, it’s the same as always—ballot snatching, teachers being coerced to make the votes sway for a particular candidate or in exchange of money or their live, vote buying—and the Comelec is telling the public that we are preparing for this based on our learning from past elections. We should work together for this instead of trying to criticize the change that we want to implement,” Jimenez said.

Jimenez declined to give details on how poll body is preparing for such eventualities but noted that its plan will be communicated to the public soon.

Jimenez, however, reiterated that automation will help prevent misappreciation of votes as well as miscalculation of tallied votes often evident in manual elections.

Melo added that the Comelec’s experience in holding the first poll automation exercise in the country at the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in 2008 provided the testbed for the 2010 automation project.

Comelec aims to sign the contract with the winning bidder this week, said Jimenez.

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