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Ensuring transparency in automated polls

Posted on: September 22, 2009

Ensuring transparency in automated polls

By Anna Valmero
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 00:24:00 09/22/2009

Filed Under: Technology (general), Elections

(Second of two parts)

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is looking to gain the public’s trust in poll automation with several transparency measures.

These measures are mandated by Republic Act 9369 or the poll automation law, according to Comelec legal department director Ferdinand Rafanan.

Outlined in the said law are measures such as the conduct of five redundant tests of poll machines before deployment in 2010, and international certification and review of the source code to be installed in the poll machines and formulation of contingency plans to ensure conduct of elections.

Rafanan also heads the special bids and awards committee (SBAC) for the P7.2 billion project.

Comelec will use 80,000 precinct count optical scan machines (PCOS) from Smartmatic and Total Information Management (TIM) to automate the counting, transmission and canvassing of votes and prevent cheating during the canvassing of election results in 2010.

Under automated balloting, voters will mark whether by shading or placing check or cross the ovals opposite the names of candidates pre-printed on the special paper ballots and feed them into the machines after casting their votes.

“These include laboratory test, two field tests, mock elections, transmission test, and final testing and sealing of the AES system—all involving end-to-end test and evaluation to ensure the system complies with the requirements of the law,” said Rafanan, referring to the tests mandated by law.

After the elections, there will be a manual audit of the computerized results in randomly selected precincts nationwide to attest that the machines were not loaded with malware that will cause cheating by adding or subtracting votes to a particular candidate as alleged by doomsayers, said
Rafanan.

“The good thing about PCOS is that we have paper ballots to count the votes should there be problems in the machines. Under Section 29 of RA 9369, we will conduct random manual audit in one precinct per congressional district nationwide, meaning we will count manually the ballots against the results by the poll machine in 250 precincts. This should give us 95 percent confidence rating on the accuracy of poll machines,” said Rafanan.

But Rafanan hinted the Comelec might increase the random manual audit to include 1,700 precincts.

“As we discuss the preparations, there are suggestions in the en banc to conduct the random manual audit in one clustered precinct among the 136 cities and 1,494 municipalities to raise the confidence level of the random manual audit to 97 percent,” said Rafanan.

Rafanan added the system has enough transparency measures and multi-layer security mechanisms such as 128-bit encryption smart keys and passwords needed to operate the machines and transmit results and audit log reports of all poll machines used on Election Day to detect fraudulent logs, if any.

Should there be malfunctions in the machine on Election Day, Rafanan said the Comelec has outlined contingency plans that will be communicated with all political parties, which will hire watchers to guard the conduct of elections.

He added a technical person certified by the Department of Science and Technology and Comelec will be designated per precinct to troubleshoot the bugs in poll machines.

Reduced cheating

Asked if the automation poll system is prone to “retail cheating” and can increase chances of violence during the voting period as cited by election lawyer and Libertas member Luie Guia (in part 1), Rafanan maintained the machines will help reduce means of cheating.

“The poll machines may not stop people from selling their votes or candidates from buying votes. We have to understand that there are two factors in automation, the technology and the people.

Retail cheating stems from humans’ not the machine’s weakness. People should be vigilant not to sell their votes because the machines will not solve the culture of vote selling-buying among people,” said Rafanan.

In a separate interview, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez also downplayed fears that “cadena de amor” or “lansadera” will proliferate again in automation or cheating at the precinct level since voters will find it hard to discreetly allow another person to fill up the ballot without being discovered.

“Cadena de amors or lansadera will be hard to do in an automated system. Unlike before, ballots in automation are large at about 20 inches long and they cannot be folded so voters who plan to cheat will be discovered and noted by the BEI and poll watchers,” said Jimenez.

Rafanan added the Comelec plans to install closed-circuit TV cameras in all precincts to monitor the conduct of elections nationwide. The recorded proceedings of the Election Day can record if elections took place in a precinct and serve as security mechanism to identify election offenders and violators, he said.

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