Updated March 25, 2009 12:00 AM
Finally, a special budget has been signed into law for poll automation in 2010. Not a hybrid type – automated in most parts of the country, manual in a few areas… such as Maguindanao, perhaps? The greatest fear of those who opposed hybrid elections was that manual voting would be retained in selected areas so that those not yet familiar with manipulating automated voting could still cheat the old way. The fear went both ways, with some quarters believing that it would be easier to cheat using vote counting machines.
Regardless of where one stands on poll automation, concerns about electoral fraud in 2010 persist. That fear can be useful if it increases public vigilance against cheating. Public expectations are unusually high that the general elections next year will herald long-awaited reforms. The Commission on Elections, working with electoral watchdogs and other concerned groups, should do its best not to frustrate those expectations.
The other day President Arroyo signed into law the supplemental budget for poll automation. Palace officials said she wanted to make modern elections part of her legacy. The enactment of the supplemental budget lifts the last barrier to the holding of fully automated elections. The next step is to ensure that the new system lives up to its promise of clean and orderly elections and a quick vote count.
Problems can start right at the procurement of vote counting machines. The nation is still stuck with P1.2 billion worth of automated counting machines, all delivered and fully paid for, that are deteriorating, unused, in a rented warehouse. For 2010, the bidding and awarding of the contract for the machines must be aboveboard. The machines must then be tested for glitches and protected against hacking and tampering.
It will take more than voting machines to make elections credible. The Comelec must clean up voters’ lists. It must level the playing field for all candidates by enforcing elections laws on campaign spending and premature campaigning. Law enforcement authorities must also do their part by preventing poll-related violence and harassment of voters. There are many ways of undermining the true will of the electorate. Poll automation is just one step in making the 2010 elections credible.
IT IS UNFORTUNATE THAT many people, including senators and congressman, are under the impression that election automation would automatically lead to clean elections.
In an automated election, good old Garcillano might not be able to employ his old tricks. But there are countless computer whiz kids who could modify programs and alter voting results electronically.
Many ways to cheat
If we look at the election process, there are many ways to cheat.
1. People in power or with lots of money could buy support from local leaders or directly from voters.
No automated system can prevent this.
2. In the old days of guns and goons, voters were either coerced to vote for certain candidates or scared away and their ballots used.
We thought we had progressed beyond this. Unfortunately, cheating prevailed in 2007 in Maguindanao and other areas.
3. Ballot box stuffing or ballot substitution.
With the proposed Comelec Automated Election System, ballots would have to be substituted before these are fed into the counting machine.
This is a little more difficult, but the actual production of the fake marked ballots is a lot easier. And it is harder to identify ballots marked by one person.
4. Misreading/mistallying of votes during precinct count.
Normally, OMR counting machines can be very accurate. But who can tell if the machine has been programmed for automated and undetected dagdag bawas? Comelec has not done enough to assure the public that this will not happen.
5. Substitution of election returns (ER).
This may have happened in the 2004 elections in ARMM.
We suspect that in Pampanga, Cebu, Iloilo and Bohol, Namfrel and the other parties may have been given fake ERs.
An honest, automated system would prevent the substitution of ERs with previously prepared faked ERs. But we can never tell if manipulation is done inside the OMR counting machine.
6. Substitution of ballot box and ER on the way to the municipality.
In the automated system, electronic ERs would be sent to the municipal canvassing center through the communication system.
How can we be sure that the results transmitted are not changed at the source or at the receiving end?
7. Fraud in the computation of the municipal COC.
This is hard to detect if the precinct results are not visible to watchers.
In the automated system, we will not see how computations are done in the canvassing server. There is no independent means to cross check what the server generates.
I think that contrary to the common belief that delays create opportunities for cheating, some delays are needed for checking and auditing.
In an automated election, moving too fast without checks and audits could result in massive cheating.
8. Substitution of Municipal COCs on the way to the province.
This could have happened in Muslim Mindanao in 2004.
Proponents of automated systems suggest that this would be prevented with secure electronic transmission. There still is the possibility of manipulation within the system.
9. Fraud in the computation of the provincial COC.
This could have happened in 2004 and could happen again within the provincial canvassing server.
10. Substitution of COCs on the way to Congress and Comelec.
This could have happened in 2004. And even with an automated system, this could still happen.
11. Errors in computation of national total.
The P9.5 billion the Comelec intends to spend on the rental of 80,000 OMR reading machines will not hasten the completion of national election counting. But the use of reading machines could lessen retail cheating in peaceful areas.
However, OMR voting is not a deterrent. For cheaters, OMR voting facilitates the production of ballots.
Hazards and safeguards
Comelec would like us to assume that automation will prevent cheating.
That is not true. Let us make sure that safeguards and audits are instituted.
The OMR system is similar to the classic, paper-based election system, except that:
1. Voters mark candidate of choice instead of writing the name.
2. The OMR ballots are machine-counted instead of being read and tallied.
For those who think that cheating can only take place when human hands are involved, this would look like a fraud-free system.
Comelec’s new procedure calls for each voter to physically feed his ballot into the machine.
A picture of the ballot is then taken.
As we pointed out earlier, the voter in some areas may be influenced or forced to feed another ballot into the machine.
Programmed to cheat
Let us pretend we are in a precinct where law and order prevails, and you are the voter feeding in your ballot.
How can you be sure that the machine will not change one or more of your votes?
How can you be sure that the total votes in the printed ER are truly what the voters in the cluster voted for?
The law provides for testing of the machines prior to Election Day.
If the machines are not stand-alone, how can you be sure that a modified program was not downloaded on Election Day to add votes for certain candidates and subtract from others (electronic dagdag bawas)?
At the end of counting, the original program could be restored.
The Election Law should call for stand-alone machines.
To verify that the OMR machines are counting properly, the two parties and the Citizens Arm should be allowed to run their test ballots before the start of counting and at the end of counting.
If discrepancies are detected, these should be noted and could be the basis for reverting to a manual count or a protest.
The Comelec proposes to automatically transmit election returns from the 80,000 OMR counting machines to the municipal servers.
While this is the fastest way to do it, it does not guarantee honest elections and does not provide transparency of the election counting process.
If the OMR counting machines can send electronic ERs to the municipal servers through the communication system, someone who knows the system well could change the programs on the machines from a remote and undetected location.
The best way to detect fraud is to create and provide at least seven printed and electronic copies of the ER.
The OMR Counting Machines should not be equipped with any communication capability.
There should be a separate stand-alone PC from where the ERs can be sent to the municipal canvassing/consolidation server as well as to the seven organizations entitled to receive the seven copies of the ER.
The Comelec AES does not provide for visible canvassing or parallel transmission and canvassing.
This will raise concerns about the honesty of the count and would certainly result in a loss of credibility of the results.
The Comelec should provide PCs for the major parties in each municipal tabulation center.
There should also be at least three projectors in each canvassing center.
The projectors would show the statement of vote for the municipality.
Watchers would be able to compare the projected totals on the three computers (Comelec, majority and opposition).
The COC should not be finalized until the discrepancies are resolved.
There are 1,631 cities and municipalities, 80 provinces, 13 regions and two national canvassing centers for a total of 1,736 sets.
Let’s provide 10-percent backup sets. That would be 1,910, let’s say 2,000.
The total cost would only be P360 million.
One could easily reduce the cost of the OMR Counting Machines by increasing the cluster size per OMR machine to 10 and allowing feeding of ballots into the machines by the BEI after the end of voting.
That would mean savings of at least P4.5 billion, which is more than enough to pay for a transparent and more credible transmission and canvassing system.
Hopefully, wholesale cheating could be lessened.
But let us not expect canvassing for national candidates to be done in three to four days.
(The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines. The author is president of Systems Sciences Consult Inc. Feedback at email@example.com. For previous articles, please visit .)
We, the founding leaders of Kaya Natin! A National Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership, fully support the Commission on Elections’ program for the full automation of the 2010 elections. We believe that the Filipinos’ right to elect our leaders is one of the main pillars of our democracy, thus we stand firm on our belief that this issue of fully automating the upcoming elections is very critical to our country’s future.
Given the history of widespread cheating in our country’s past elections, we believe that by fully automating the upcoming electoral exercise, election cheating and fraud can be minimized, thus ensuring that the true mandate of the people will be served. Aside from this, the full automation of the elections will help minimize human error and at the same time allow for the Filipino people to know the results of the elections within a lesser period of time.
As local government leaders, we have seen the importance of electing effective and ethical leaders through fair and honest elections. The full automation of the elections will help level the playing field, especially for morally upright and good intentioned candidates who may not have enough financial resources to hire poll watchers to guard their votes. By electing good leaders, the Filipino people can expect good governance leading to more efficient delivery of basic services.
We call on our lawmakers to work for transparent, clean and honest elections by immediately passing the necessary supplemental budget for the full automation of the upcoming elections.
We call on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to appeal to her allies in Congress to pass the budget necessary for the full automation of the upcoming elections.
Finally, we call on all Filipinos to join us in exerting pressure on our government leaders, especially on our congressmen and senators, for the immediate approval of the supplemental budget that will assure us of a fully automated election in 2010.
JESSE ROBREDO, mayor, Naga City; GRACE PADACA, governor, Isabela; EDDIE PANLILIO, governor, Pampanga; SONIA LORENZO, mayor, San Isidro, Nueva Ecija; Teodoro Baguilat, governor, Ifugao
MANILA, Philippines—Members of the Commission on Elections Advisory Council (CAC) lauded the Senate’s approval of the P11.3 supplemental budget for poll automation.
CAC chairman Ray Anthony Roxas-Chua III and Henrietta de Villa, chairperson of the Parish Pastroral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) and National Movement for Free Elections, said this development sets in motion plans to fully automate the elections in 2010.
“The approval of the bill keeps us on schedule with the preparatory activities needed, especially the start of the procurement process. We are now all systems go,” he said.
If the supplemental budget was not approved before the Holy Week break, Comelec would lose one month and can only proceed with the slated activities after Congress passes the bill when session resumes in April.
Roxas-Chua III expressed gratitude to members of the Senate “for acting on the poll automation budget given a short time frame.”
He cited the Senate only received the House version of the bill Tuesday and was able to work double time to approve it late Wednesday. The House of Representatives approved the bill Monday night.
“I laud Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Edgardo Angara and Richard Gordon for fighting for and winning the approval of the poll automation budget. With this news, we can now start moving with the procurement process,” said De Villa.
Roxas-Chua III said the approval of the bill puts the Comelec in a safer position to pursue the bidding process.
“Although there is a circular by the Government Procurement and Policy Board (GPPB) allowing agencies with general appropriations to proceed with the bidding short of making an award or before a SARO [Special Allotment Release Order] is made, along the line there might be questions on the legalities because there is no mention of a supplemental budget in the circular, only of general appropriations,” he said.
Roxas-Chua III said that while the poll body can proceed with the bidding even without the release of the budget, “there is a risk of legalities down the line” if some parties would challenge the contents and legalities of the circular, as it applies to the poll automation budget.
“We are very happy the bill was approved before the Holy Week break, now it only needs the signature of the President [Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo],” said the official.
The Comelec has requested for the supplemental budget to lease 80,000 precinct count optical scans for the nationwide poll automation project in 2010.
Comelec chairman Jose Melo has been urging Congress to pass the supplemental budget before the Holy Week recess on March 7 so the poll body can proceed with their preparations.
Melo has said the poll body would publish the terms of reference for the bidders on March 25, earlier than the original schedule of April 2.
The terms of reference would define the specifications of the machines and the system to be deployed for the 2010 polls, as crafted by the Comelec in collaboration with the CAC.
By May 22, the poll body would award the contract to a wining bidder for the machines. Activities, such as configuration of the machines, testing and mock elections, staff training and voters’ education, would then follow.
Roxas-Chua III said the terms of refernce is “almost in final form and about 90 to 95 percent complete.
He told INQUIRER.net the terms of reference would be finalized within the week.
Noting the reservations of some lawmakers, De Villa said the people would still determine the success of any elections.
“An automated election system will not guarantee ‘foolproof elections’ rid of fraud and cheating because on the final analysis, it is still the people who vote and get elected who make the decisions if an election is a success,” said De Villa.
De Villa and Roxas-Chua III urged the Comelec to apply the recommendations of the CAC for a transparent bidding process.
In the resolution released in February, the CAC recommended that bids and decisions of the Bidding and Awards Committee (BAC) be published immediately after the awards are made.
It also would like to allow the public to observe the bids committee meetings and bar BAC members from making any contact with prospective bidders after the procurement process has started.
Roxas-Chua III said the resolutions aim to prevent questionable bids and make BAC decisions transparent.
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.
After senate ok on poll fund
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.
Landmark measure junks manual electoral system
It’s full speed ahead for the computerized general elections on May 10, 2010, Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair Jose Melo said Thursday.
“We are ready. There will be full automation nationwide,” Melo said at a press briefing Thursday after the Senate passed the House-approved P11.3-billion supplemental budget for the automation of the elections on May 10, 2010.
The Senate approval of the measure at midnight Wednesday finally discarded the fraud-prone manual counting of votes in the country.
Instead of writing on ballots, voters will shade the spaces allotted for the names of candidates. The ballots will then be inserted into the optical machine readers to be placed in clustered precincts all over the country.
Melo said the Comelec would pursue the nationwide automation of elections, despite opposition and skepticism from certain lawmakers and information technology professionals.
Although exhausted from almost seven hours of debate, main proponents Senators Edgardo Angara and Richard Gordon beamed after the presiding officer, Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, banged the gavel to adopt House Bill No. 5715, which the House of Representatives passed on Monday.
Angara said the supplemental budget was a landmark measure because it buried the electoral system introduced in the country since democratic elections started at the turn of the 20th century.
“It is the beginning of a new era of modern elections. I’m glad that my colleagues have embraced this march to modernization of the electoral process,” he said.
With nine of the 13 senators voting to support poll automation, Angara and Gordon declared in separate interviews after the plenary vote that the approval of the measure marked the end of the manual counting of votes in the country.
Angara, chair of the Senate finance committee and sponsor of the committee report, said the supplemental budget would bring back confidence in government, especially faith in the electoral system.
“It is the first block in confidence building. Faith in the Commission on Elections will begin. This bill is very crucial on the eve of a very crucial election in 2010,” Angara said in an interview right after the chamber adjourned for a month-long Lenten break at about 1 a.m. Thursday.
Results in two days
The results for national candidates from President, Vice President and senators will be known in two days, the Comelec said.
Comelec officials told senators before the plenary vote that technically voting would be manual, but the counting and transmission of votes would be automated.
The senators who voted for the measure were Senators Angara, Gordon, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Loren Legarda, Rodolfo Biazon, Lito Lapid, Ramon Revilla Jr., Gregorio Honasan and Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr.
Four senators—Benigno Aquino III, Jinggoy Estrada, Jamby Madrigal and Francis Escudero—voted against the measure.
“I am not willing to spend even a single centavo for a system which is not tested, for a system we cannot even describe or define, or a system that we’re not even sure of delivering a clean, honest and fair election,” Escudero said.
Madrigal said the planned automation could turn into a “nightmare” because the fundamental institutional reforms had not been implemented in the Comelec.
Legarda voted for the measure, although she said she was cheated in the 2004 elections when she ran for Vice President.
Legarda said that even in automated elections, the manner of manual voting was still greatly susceptible to fraud.
“I will vigilantly guard the Comelec in this process every step of the way in the hope that finally, free, honest and democratic elections can be held in our country that is truly reflective of the people’s will,” she said.
The approval of the measure prompted Zubiri, the Senate majority leader, to challenge the Comelec to do its job.
“We did our job, it’s time for you to do your job,” he said.
Focus on common good
Melo, who was present during the lengthy deliberations, assured the senators that the poll body could implement to the letter Republic Act No. 9369, or the Amended Automated Elections Law, which prescribes full automation of the country’s electoral exercise on May 10 next year.
The automation law was supposed to be implemented in the May 2007 elections but the Comelec sought a postponement, citing lack of time for preparations.
“With automated elections, our people can rely on the fact that their vote will be counted, and that their vote will mean change for the country, then they will stop being cynical. And once they stop being cynical, perhaps the focus will now be on the common good,” said Gordon.
At the press briefing, Comelec commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer said the poll body would not consider suggestions to put on hold the nationwide computerized polls because of logistical problems. Neither will it look into the proposal of some IT experts to use the Open Election System, he said.
“Comments such as those are already too late in the day,” Ferrer said.
Melo said full automation under the Precinct Counting Optical Scan (PCOS) would considerably reduce instances of fraud and cheating. It will also lessen election complaints because the system promises to be fast and accurate, according to the Comelec chief.
PCOS is a ballot-based system in which the voter will mark his choices on a specially printed ballot that features security markings. The ballot will then be fed into a scanner, which records and stores the votes.
Bidding by end March
Melo said the Comelec was within its timeline for the election preparations.
Since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is set to sign the budget in the next few days, the Comelec sees the start of the bidding for the PCOS supply contract by the end of March.
Melo said the Comelec was set to approve the terms of reference (TOR) for the bidders on Friday and publish it next week.
“We want to give the service providers the opportunity to comment on the TOR then we will begin with the bidding process soon,” he said.
Rent 80,000 machines
The Comelec aims to award the contract before May 22 to give the winning bidder ample time to configure the machines. The poll body said it would rent around 80,000 machines for the 2010 elections.
Eleven foreign firms have expressed interest in bidding for the PCOS contract. These are US firms Sequioa, Avante, ES/S, Hart and Scantron; Venezuela’s Smartmatic; United Kingdom’s DRS; India’s Bharat; South Korea’s DVS Korea; Gilat Solution of Israel and Spain’s Indra System.
“These companies have demonstrated capabilities and good track records of successfully holding actual elections abroad,” said Commissioner Rene Sarmiento.
Based on the Comelec calendar, the supplier should deliver the machines to the Comelec on Nov. 28 and test the machines in December.
Updated February 26, 2009 12:00 AM
The law modernizing the elections, Republic Act 9369, was passed on Jan. 23, 2007. It updated and fine-tuned RA 8436, which authorized the Commission on Elections to use an automated system in the 1998 general elections. Eleven years after national hopes for modern elections were enshrined in law, Filipinos are still waiting for poll automation.
RA 9369 was passed two years ago, but everyone forgot to appropriate funding for it. Perhaps this was fueled by hopes that the Constitution could be amended and the 2010 general elections would not push through. When the Comelec reminded the nation that without money, there would be no poll automation in 2010, Malacañang finally submitted to Congress a proposal for a supplemental budget of P11.3 billion. Now it’s the turn of the House of Representatives to take its sweet time approving the funding.
Instead of speeding up the passage of the supplemental budget, congressmen are deliberating on amending a law that has not yet even been implemented. Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez is reportedly proposing that manual voting be retained for local races including those for Congress. Golez’s House colleagues seem receptive to the idea and are sitting on the supplemental budget until they make a final decision on the proposed amendment to RA 9369.
Why would congressmen want their votes to be counted manually? Maybe they are technophobes who don’t trust machines. Maybe they are sentimental folks who don’t relish parting with tradition. The ugliest speculation is that partial automation, with the old manual system retained in some areas — or, under the latest proposal, at the local level — provides better options for cheating. Surely this is not what Golez and the endorsers of his proposal have in mind.
Whatever the motive for the proposal, Congress should quickly decide whether or not it wants to take the Philippine voting system to the 21st century. Members of the previous Congress had made up their mind on this when they passed RA 9369. Now the present Congress is taking another look at the law. With just 14 months to go before the general elections, Congress does not have the luxury of time for a belated change of heart.