Let’s design an automated election system … together

2
GUS LAGMAN

GUS LAGMAN

Part 4

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The elections of 2010, 2013 and 2016 were automated using what is referred to as Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) System. Many found their performance to be satisfactory, except that those who believed so, were generally not IT savvy. And even those who might have some IT experience, however, did not have domain knowledge – meaning they are not so familiar with the election system in the Philippines.

But I’m getting ahead of myself and the objective of this part of my series of articles. Let me therefore backtrack a bit and discuss the various automated election technologies that are available today and are widely in use.

Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) System
This technology is also referred to as the “touch-screen” system. The voter submits his choices from among the candidates whose names (and often times, also photographs) appear on a computer monitor. A printed output indicating his choices, may or may not be part of the machine’s features. At the end of the voting period, the system will automatically count the votes garnered by each candidate. It will also print the results of the counting and electronically-transmit such results to the City/Municipal Board of Canvassers (CMBOC).

Advantages:
• All four stages of the election process (voting, counting, transmission, and canvassing) are automated

• Instantaneous tally of votes at the precinct level

• Theoretically, less work for the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI)

• No ballot box snatching, as the results are transmitted electronically

Disadvantages:
• Not transparent; voters may not trust the result of counting that they did not see

• Manipulation of results by insider technical people is easy to execute

• Because voting is done in front of the machine, it will therefore require 5-6 units per precinct (total of approximately 500-600,000 units, assuming 100,000 precincts)

• Logistics will be a nightmare (500,000 units to be delivered to 100,000 locations)

• Cost prohibitive, estimated at P50 billion

BEI and voter training staggering
• Number of technical support people may run in the hundreds of thousands

• Storage of machines after each election will be a major concern – worry about cost and availability of warehouse

Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) System
Voters make their choices through pre-printed ballots, simply by shading the spaces opposite the names of the candidates. A printed output indicating his choices, may or may not be part of the machine’s features. The ballots are fed into the OMR unit by the voters, one at a time. At the end of the voting period, the system will automatically count the votes garnered by each candidate. It will also print the results of the counting and electronically-transmit such results to the CMBOC.

Advantages:
• Instantaneous tally of votes at the precinct level

• Since ballots are pre-printed, voters simply mark choices; no need to write names

• Less work for the BEI

• Cost less than DRE (approximately, P10 billion)

• BEI and voter training minimal, relative to DRE

• No ballot box snatching, as the results are transmitted electronically

Disadvantages:
• Not transparent; voters may not trust the result of counting that they did not see

• Manipulation of results by insider technical people is easy to execute

• Because of the “percentage shading threshold,” disenfranchisement becomes a real and unfortunate issue (example, a 25% threshold means that if an oval is shaded less than 25%, the vote will not be counted)

• The machine is sensitive to external marks and smudges

• Difficult to fairly resolve over-marked ballots

• Easy to illegally shade ovals in under-marked ballots

• Storage of machines after each election will be a major concern, though not as much as with DREs

Hybrid System
Voters signify their choices by writing down the names of the candidates they want to vote for, in ordinary ballots. After the voting period, the ballots are counted manually. A step to convert the results into machine-readable form is executed, followed by the printing of the additional copies of the Election Returns, and the electronic transmission of the ERs to the CMBOC. Henceforth, the automated canvassing will proceed similarly as in the DRE and OMR systems.

Advantages:
• All steps of the election process are transparent to the voting public; precinct-tallying is done under the watchful eyes of the voters

• Accuracy of the counting is high – after all, manual counts are the basis of accuracy

• Cost is much less than DRE and OMR (approximately P4 billion); even the ballots will cost much less

• No BEI and voter training necessary

• Vulnerability to cheating is very low (only retail cheating, if at all)

• Software will use open source – can be reviewed by anybody interested

• Since only PCs and servers will be used, they can be purchased in any big city; therefore, less logistics concerns

• No warehousing necessary as machines can be donated to schools after each election; a new set will be purchased every three years

• No ballot box snatching, as the results are transmitted electronically

Disadvantages:
• Precinct-tallying will be 5-8 hours longer than DRE or OMR

• May need an encoder in every precinct

There are of course other technologies that are available in the market, but most of them may be categorized under the above three.

Shortly before the 2013 elections, a group of Filipino IT practitioners, all sufficiently knowledgeable about election systems, did a cost/benefit study of what could be a “most appropriate” automated system for the Philippines. Included in the study were DRE, OMR (specifically, PCOS), CCOS (Central Count Optical Scan), the Hybrid System, and the pure manual system (as in the old days). The major criteria used in the comparison were transparency, accuracy, vulnerability to cheating, cost, speed, training and staffing requirements, and machine reliability.

As expected, the Hybrid System came out far, far ahead of the other technologies. It’s small wonder therefore that it is the most popular election system worldwide.

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2 Comments

  1. Mr. Lagman: I have a simple suggestion:
    1. Voting must be manual.
    2. Tallied results at the precint level must be official and final.
    3. Tallied results at the precint level must be electronically transmitted simultaneously to the municipal comelec, the provincial comelec and the national comelec.
    4. the municipal, provincial and the national board of canvassers must be abolished.
    Thank you very much.

    • BTW. every precinct should have some military people who’s not from the municipality to watch for barangay captains trying to influence the results.
      I really like your IDEA. small details like availability of electricity and transmission lines among others can easily be addressed before election day.
      Maybe we can add texting/emailing the results to authorized watch groups on top of the official transmission to higher level lgu canvassers. Precint canvassers can even make money by sending copies to those who will pay for copies of the official precinct count.