The announcement made by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) during the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) hearing at the Senate last Feb. 16 – attended by members of the Commission, its Advisory Council & Technical Evaluation Committee, the automated election system & technology provider, political party representatives, civil society, professional and election monitoring organizations – of the possibility that ALL election returns (ERs) received by ALL City/Municipal Boards of Canvassers (C/MBOCs) will be posted on a public website that is accessible to everyone is one of the most welcome and acclaimed news coming out of the Comelec. This single, simple step will be a big boost to the transparency and credibility of the May 9 national and local elections. The people themselves will be able to judge how fair and honest the elections will be, based on facts and figures available from the public website.
This public website would allow especially the political parties and candidates to verify that the ERs received by the C/MBOCs contain the same results as the ERs sent by the machines, simply by viewing the ERs from the website and comparing these with the printed copies of the ERs that they receive. If both figures match, it would prove that no tampering occurred during the electronic transmission; and if not, this should trigger investigation and rectification.
Posting election returns on the website will also allow the voters and other interested parties to verify the accuracy of canvassing and the consolidation at the city/municipal, provincial, and national levels. Discrepancies discovered can immediately be investigated and rectified. Interested parties, by downloading all the ERs from the public website and using proper software, can do their own independent tabulation, then check and compare their results with Comelec’s official ones. As a public service, NAMFREL and other NGOs willing to support the project, would develop the analytical software to equip parties with the necessary tools to do it.
There are only six possible areas in the automated election system where cheating or tampering can occur, namely: during 1) reading of the ballot, 2) precinct-counting, 3) electronic transmission, 4) city/municipal canvassing, 5) provincial canvassing, and 6) national canvassing. Posting the ERs on a public website would make the last four areas very transparent to the voting public and any tampering done in those areas would be easily detected.
On the reading of the ballot, the Supreme Court decision requiring the printing of a voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT), or more popularly referred to as the “receipt”, will almost eliminate its vulnerability. The Random Manual Audit (RMA), on the other hand, will, to a certain extent, prove the accuracy of precinct-counting.
It is also good that JCOC chose to source the ERs that will be posted on the public website from the C/MBOCs. As what happened during the 2010 and 2013 elections, the ERs received by the Central Server and the Transparency Server were not complete and, therefore, auditing the official results did not achieve its intended purpose because of incomplete data.
To make these new Comelec decisions truly effective, we suggest that Comelec’s service provider put in all the necessary security features to protect the public website from hacking. While we know that the official canvassing will remain secure, any hacking attempt would, on the other hand, be an unnecessary inconvenience. As an additional precaution, a private website, accessible only via password to political parties, citizens’ arm, and media, could also be considered. ERs on the public website should also carry all the indicative information (metadata), like precinct locations, time stamps, control counts, voter turn-out, BEI identities to truly make them easily identifiable and traceable.
Since the Comelec has announced these systems improvements in February, we assume that the service provider has already taken steps to make these operable. It would be advisable for the Comelec to conduct demonstrations of these new features and to enjoin all citizens’ arms to support it and join in its widespread dissemination campaign to make the voting public aware of its existence and use this in monitoring election results.
These indeed are great improvements which the Comelec can institutionalize toward a shared effort of the Comelec and the public to keep our elections truly democratic, credible, and transparent.
[NAMFREL, Veritas846, CBCP-NASSA, Makati Business Club, Task Force Eleksyon, LENTE, Simbahang, Lingkod sa Bayan, DLSU-COSCA, Votenet Phils, FAITHe]