Lawmakers favor cheaper voting

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THERE is still hope for the transparent and credible election system (TCrES) to be implemented in 2016 after the joint congressional oversight committee on the automated election system (JCOS-AES) on Thursday asked the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to revisit its position on the matter.

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Sen. Aquilino Pimentel 3rd, chairperson of the JCOC-AES, said during the committee hearing that they will study all legal angles regarding the possible implementation of TCrES in the future.

TCrES is an alternative election system being pushed by various election watchdogs and individuals who find the credibility of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines highly questionable.

Former Comelec Commissioner and IT expert Gus Lagman is one of the advocates of TCrES, a hybrid election system that is expected to make the voting process more credible and less expensive, compared to PCOS and direct-voting electronic (DRE) technologies.

Under the TcrES, voting is the same as in the past manual voting method. Precinct counting will also be manual, but an improved design of the Tally Sheet Forms and Election Returns will be used.

The results will then be encoded, verified and the precinct results will be electronically transmitted to the Municipal Board of Canvassers (MBOC) and the Central Verification Server (CVS). This will be followed by the automated consolidation and canvassing of votes at the municipal, provincial, and national levels.

But former Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes said if the proponents of TCrES really want to adopt the system, they should have proposed it earlier because this would require several amendments of the AES law.

Brillantes noted that TCrES is against the AES law because it calls for a manual voting and precinct counting.

But Lagman disagreed, saying that like the PCOS-based system, TCrES supports electronic
transmission and canvassing.

Lagman called on the Comelec and Congress to direct their best legal luminaries to study the TcrES, which, he said, is compliant with the law on the automated elections system.
“We will study the legal angle. We will revisit our position,” Pimentel said in response to Lagman’s request.

The former Comelec official, meanwhile, questioned the logic behind the poll body’s decision to pilot test the DRE technology in the municipality of Pateros in 2016 instead of the cheaper TcrES, which can be developed locally.

“DRE is not only three to four times more expensive than PCOS, it is also the least transparent among all systems. So I would like to find out what is the logic (of their decision) because even assuming that it becomes successful are we going to use that all over the country,” Lagman said.

Acting Comelec Chairman Christian Lim, on the other hand, said the poll body only followed an earlier recommendation of the Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) on the use of a secondary voting technology aside from the PCOS technology.

CAC, in its recommendation released last year, said the Comelec can pilot test one or more secondary voting technologies, such as DRE technology, provided that these inter-operate with the canvassing system and give preference to Filipino-developed technologies.

“It is just to showcase other technologies and if the government is ready to spend for that mode of voting, but on our part we just followed the recommendation of the CAC,” the Comelec official said.

Pimentel, however, reminded Lim that CAC only made the recommendation and that it is still the Comelec that made the final decision.

TCrES advocates also cannot see the point why the poll body is testing the DRE technology when it is aware that this will be obsolete in three years.

Meanwhile, Caloocan City Rep. Edgar Erice asked the Comelec if there is a possibility for the poll body to pilot test the TCrES instead of the DRE in 2016.

Lim said the poll body can, but Congress must first amend RA 9369, which authorized Comelec to use an “automated election system that will ensure the secrecy and sanctity of the ballot and all election, consolidation and transmission documents.”

RA 9369 also defines AES as a system using appropriate technology, which has been demonstrated in the voting, counting, consolidating, canvassing, and transmission of election result, and other electoral process.

Erice asked Lagman if he could, or he knew somebody who could, provide TcrES. In response, the former Comelec commissioner said the poll body itself could develop the system.

“When I was in Comelec I asked the IT people there to develop a canvassing system which they did, but Mr. Brillantes did not want to use it,” Lagman said, referring to the former Comelec chair.

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