• Let’s design an automated election system…together


    While we are still almost three years away from the 2019 elections, it is, in fact, the best time to start planning for it.There are very valid reasons why it has to be started this early. Many observers, IT practitioners, mostly, have been commenting that the system used in 2010, 2013, and 2016 – i.e., Smartmatic’s Precinct Count Optical Scan, or PCOS – while fast, did not, however, meet the required accuracy level, was definitely not transparent, and was very vulnerable to tampering by an insider. All these have been proven to be true.

    These failures could all be traced to the fact that the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), quite apparently, did not go through the standard project analysis and cost/benefits study before deciding on the system to be used in all three elections. This important step is a must, especially for major projects costing billions of pesos.

    After the 2010 elections, the Chairman of the COMELEC Advisory Council (CAC) said in his report that we should not use PCOS again. The then Chairman of the Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms in the Lower House, said in his report that if the loopholes in the PCOS are not plugged, “… a reversion to manual elections with heightened vigilance by organizations like PPCRV and NAMFREL would probably yield more credible and accurate results”. Why Smartmatic continued to win the contracts is something that we fail to understand. Private companies would have given them the boot long ago.

    It is feared that if nothing different is done this time around, then the same decisions would be made by COMELEC; the same doubts, from those in the know, on the system’s unreliability would be generated, the same wasteful spending would occur.

    This writer proposes to undertake this study, together with the public … and, hopefully, with the COMELEC as well, if it will so agree to participate. Through a series of articles in this paper, this writer will present to the readers the different aspects about elections and the options that we could take, in order to arrive at the “most appropriate” automated system for our elections, as required by law. Contributions to the discussion would of course be appreciated.

    We will begin by reviewing the old, pure manual system, then discuss its defects, problems, and pitfalls. After that, we will scan the environment for automation election tools that are currently available, discuss the pros and cons of each, and then proceed to designing and formulating a workable system.

    The pure manual elections
    The pure manual elections (no automated component at all) that we used from our very first election in the 1940s up to 2007 followed a very simple system that required no training of voters at all. Common sense and the ability to read and write were almost all one needed. Those who cannot read and write and those with disabilities were allowed to be assisted by a close relative. Even the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) hardly needed any training; most of them only received written instructions that would come with the usual election paraphernalia distributed to them a few days before the elections.Here’s how the system works:

    Precinct voting and counting
    The BEIs man a precinct each. A BEI is composed of three teachers, one of whom is assigned as Chairman and the other two as poll clerks. Approximately 200 voters (maximum of 250) are registered under each precinct. When this system was last used in 2007, there were a little more than 200,000 precincts that opened nationwide.

    The election process consists of stages – the voting period, the vote-counting, the transport of the ballots and results of counting, referred to as Election Returns (ERs), and the three-level canvassing – municipal, provincial, and national consolidation of votes.

    The voting period would start at 7:00 AM and close at 3:00 PM. The BEI, however, would start working as early as 5:00 AM in order to prepare the classroom and the election materials for the voters’ registration and actual voting. As many as 15-20 voters would usually be allowed to vote simultaneously or as many as could be comfortably accommodated inside the classroom. Even as the voting closes at 3:00 PM, all voters making up a queue of up to 30 meters long, would still be allowed to vote.

    After a brief rest following the close of the voting period, the BEI would start counting the votes. The first step would be for the Chairman to count all the ballots inside the ballot box. Once done and the count recorded, the Chairman would start reading off aloud, the candidates’ names written on each ballot. One of the members would record the votes into the Election Returns using “taras” (or sticks), while the third member would record the same votes into the Tally Boards that are taped or stapled to the walls of the classroom.

    When all the votes have been read and recorded, the BEI would then add up the total votes garnered by each candidate in both the Election Returns and the Tally Boards, making sure that both reports have the same totals. The BEI would then complete the Minutes of the proceedings, sign all the forms, then pack the documents for transport to the canvassing center.

    The BEIs of the precints in a polling center (usually, a school) would normally share a jeepney, or jeepneys, when transporting the ballot boxes and other documents to the city/municipal canvassing center. It is also safer for them to wait for each other, as most of them would finish the counting in the very early hours of the following day.

    (The next installment, which will come out three weeks from now,will discuss the canvassing process and the problems associated with the pure manual system.)


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    1. Juana Filipina on

      I commend the writer for his efforts to shed light regarding this issue. Indeed, there is no better time to discuss the challenges and problems that beset the previous elections than now.

      Our ancestor’s sacrifices for freedom and indepence may be in vain if the people’s choice is not reflected in the electoral process. People may flock to polls. But ultimately, only a few people decide who wins and who don’t. This is a mockery of our right to suffrage.

      I say, let the people’s true voice be heard. Whether the choice be bad or good. It is our choice. It is democracy.

    2. Thank you for this article, Mr. Gus Lagman! Even at this point I wish to make one issue clear, without reading yet your succeeding article, that is, to ensure that ballot boxes, {the very old, antiquated yellow metal boxes should be DISCARDED BY ALL MEANS!!!}! I am sure, many are all familiar with “plastic transparent boxes” for such purposes. Even those we call “3rd world countries” use such plastic transparent ballot boxes!

      Our election history knows very well such metal yellow boxes were used for evil purposes, with fictitious ballots and results!!!

    3. Juan T. Delacruz on

      The question is : why SMATMATIC continue to win contract to something that we fail to understand? Yes indeed! we fail to understand because we refuse to believe what the voting machines can do, and most of the time, we tend to listen to the loosing candidates, that they were cheated because someone manipulated the machines or added some type of program that can add or shave votes. To answer the question why SMARTMATIC continue to win contracts? Because there in nothing wrong with their voting machines.

      Once upon a time in a country called Philippines, a losing vice-presidential candidate was surprised he lost the election after all the votes were counted. This candidate belonged to a very powerful family, cannot accept a defeat so he hired lawyers, statisticians, mathematicians, and few IT experts kunu. They have questioned everything, and started why the Smartmatic technicians were staying in a hotel close to LP’s headquarters in QC? Their camp also insisted that there was an unauthorized program added to the machines that shaved votes from their candidate and added to his opponent. His two lawyers wore mask and met with reporters, claiming that they were involved in setting up an extra machine in Quezon Province for the purpose of votes adding and shaving. They even theorized that this candidate was over one million votes ahead around 8:00 p.m and was overtaken at 3:00 a.m. or about six hours later. They filed criminal charges against Smartmatic and finally, to PET. However, it seems like this candidate will get tae again.

      Once again, there were no problems on the machines used in last election. If only people understand what kind of programming language was used, how computers process data fed into them, how these computers are configured, how data are transmitted, how data are stored in transparency servers, they would have better words to describe and appreciate the Automated Election Machines. We are talking about pure science here, that requires years of formal education, the combination of programming and electronic devices working together to achieve fast and accurate results and this is the only way to appreciate what we have.

    4. My name is Vir Gaerlan, creator of the “Fast Manual( Automated) Voting ” System. Please see the design of
      my voting system in my Facebook account. You can also find me at Google. My system is simple and doesn’t
      use electricity and the least expensive among existing voting system.

    5. ernie del rosario on

      Perhaps rather than starting out studying the ills of manual elections (we already know these) wouldn’t it be more logical to start with the basic question: “What is an election ?” In short, dig into the roots or SCIENCE of elections (yes, there is such a thing) and proceed from there.

      There are very few fundamental “commandments” or rules of public elections which one can count on one hand. There are 3 basic commandments with one of them better split into two aspects thus summing up to just four (4)rules . The basic three are: (1) accurate, (2) fair and (3) secret or private. Fair is better split into two aspects: (2.a) only legitimate voters can vote and (2.b) a voter can only vote once in the same election. So we end up with four (4) rules. Ramifications of these four rules may then be listed down to DESIGN what kind of election system we need as a country putting in factors of feasibility and practicality of course. For example, the rule “accurate” breaks down into:1) appreciating each vote exactly as the voter intended, 2) recording exactly and securely that voter intent and 3) counting exactly as recorded. Securing the purity of the vote are then additional requirements.

      Now to assure legitimacy of the election, we need measures to convince the public that indeed these 4 rules are strictly adhered to – meaning the election should not JUST be claimed by the election management body (the generic term EMB or Comelec in our case) to be accurate but that such claim is convincingly believable to the public. And these measures are under the realm of Transparency. Transparency and Trust are two sides of the same “coin.” Agad-agad with these 4 rules, we will immediately see that the automated system we used in 3 national and 1 regional elections are UTTERLY DEFECTIVE and preposterously OPAQUE both in the 4 rules aspect and in transparency ! These arguments alone strongly dictate the compelling need to throw out the Smartmatic system and sue the perpetrators of the serial sting.