ICT group worries about poll automation
MAKATI CITY, Philippines— (UPDATE) A group composed mostly of information and communications technology (ICT) professionals is worried about late Wednesday’s approval of the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) supplemental budget for poll automation in 2010.
“I worry about the approval of the poll automation at the Senate. I worry what might happen in 2010 elections,” said Augusto Lagman, head of the Transparentelections.org during a presentation of version one of its Open Election System (OES) management software.
Lagman pointed out that the automated machines that would be leased for the 2010 poll would run on software that is proprietary.
He also claimed that the Comelec is also not ready to implement poll automation based on the report of the Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) on the automated elections in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao held in August 2008.
“Unless [Comelec] uses an open election system, we leave the outcome of elections to a foreign company and implementers, the Comelec–not to the voters as it should be,” Lagman said.
Lagman quoted a text message, which he said made him worried: The Senate approved the supplemental budget for full election automation at midnight. No more bicam[eral]. It will go straight to PGMA for signature.”
Citing Republic Act 9369 or the poll automation law, Lagman said a joint oversight committee would be created to asses the automated election system that would be used by the Comelec for the 2010 elections. This committee, headed by Senator Francis Escudero, had its first meeting with the Comelec last Wednesday.
“We will present to [Congress] and the Comelec Advisory Council a demonstration of the OES software that we have. I am awaiting the notice of CICT chair [Ray Anthony] Roxas-Chua III,” said Lagman.
He said under the proposed Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) system, vote padding, advance shading of ballots and other electoral fraud cannot be checked. PCOS is a type of optical mark recognition (OMR) machine.
Under the present manual voting system, voters write the names of the candidates then election officials check if the ballots are genuine or fraudulent based on their handwriting.
In an OMR system, Lagman said it would be very difficult to tell if only one person made all the markings in the special ballots.
Lagman claimed that results using an OMR system can be tampered by “over voting.”
Under an OES, the ballot is only counted as a “trusted paper trail” along with the election results since election officials can still check the ballots if they’re fraudulent or not by looking at the handwriting and signatures of the voters.
Lagman said the OES combines manual voting and tallying and automated canvassing. Thus there is no need for voters’ education because the manner of voting stays the same and manual tallying is very transparent, as it is done in public.
Once voting results are tallied per precinct, encoders can consolidate the data using an open election management system, which is built around an open source model of software development.
The Transparentelections group tapped Jaime Caro, chair of the Department of Computer Science at the University of the Philippines Diliman, to develop the first version of open election management system.
Caro said it took about two months to develop the first version of the software. Currently, the software is undergoing more refinement, as they add more security features.
The software will be used to input the precinct voting results from national to local candidates. Encoded voting results are then cross-checked by the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) and certified before it is printed and transmitted to a read-only mirror website.
For security features, encoders and BEIs are required to provide usernames and passwords to access the website before they can transmit, see and download election documents.
Once voting results are made available on a website, stakeholders can print and crosscheck the data uploaded with the election results posted at the doors of each precinct.
Lagman said that the OES design and software source code would be made available to the public for review and comment.
The Transparentelections.org targets to publish on its website the OES software design and source code next week, Lagman added.
The group also intends to gather comments from the public then use them to finalize the system design. Copies of these comments would to the Comelec, political parties, citizen’s arms and media.
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With the Comelec adopting an open election system, the group believes that all data, down to the precinct level, would be available to the public via the Internet and even through mobile phones.
Transparentelections.org is a group organized to push for clean and honest elections, according to its website. It is composed of concerned citizens, all of whom are technology practitioners promoting the adoption of an OES for the Philippine national and local elections in 2010.