The veil of secrecy provides a nurturing environment for doubt, distrust, and scepticism to thrive.
Transparency of our election processes is a policy declared in the Election Automation Law, Republic Act No. 8436 (RA8436) as amended by Republic Act No 9369. Yet, the processes of ballot evaluation, vote recording and counting, preparation of election returns, the canvassing and consolidation of election results, and the generation of the canvass reports were kept hidden behind the automated election system (AES) used in the 2010 and 2013 elections.
In an attempt to ensure a bit of transparency,TransparentElections.org.ph, shortly before the 2010 national and local elections, suggested to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) that LCD projectors be provided at the canvassing centers so that the election returns received may be displayed on projection screens to afford election watchers the opportunity to compare copies of election returns they have collected from the polling precincts. The Comelec adopted the suggestion and issued a resolution that directed the local government units to provide LCD projectors for use at the canvassing centers. It fell short of the objective. Only the status of election returns transmission was displayed.
The process of canvassing and consolidation of election returns, too, was never publicly observable though at the end of the process, in some canvassing centers, the results were displayed via the LCD projector.
RA 8436, as amended, also required that “the Commission (the Comelec) shall prescribe the manner and procedure of counting the votes under the automated system.” Were these ever made public? The Comelec’s voter education programs covered only the voting procedure, from shading the ovals to inserting the ballot into the PCOS slot. It never addressed the manner and procedure for counting of votes in the AES.
It will be recalled that soon after the electoral exercise in 2010, the first time an AES was used nationwide, candidates, political parties, election watch organizations, and other interested parties were confronted with the phenomenon of “null votes”. It turned out that “null votes” were an outcome of the hidden manner and procedure of counting the votes.
Then in 2013, a discovery. Digital lines were found running the length of some ballot picture images. Some of these digital lines crossed ovals which resulted in over votes causing legitimate votes to be uncounted. Some of these digital lines resulted in the counting of votes for some candidates where these were not intended by voters.
It’s time to bring transparency back in our elections.
Transparency of our election processes is enshrined in the Omnibus Election Code, Batas Pambansa Bilang 881 (BP881). Crafted and promulgated during the martial law years, the manner by which BP881 meticulously describes our election processes ensures that the execution of the election processes is unmistakably transparent and publicly observable.
The shortcomings of the AES used in 2010 and 2013 elections must be corrected. The software that runs in the PCOS machine needs to be modified to incorporate all systems capabilities enumerated in RA8436, as amended. For example, one of the systems capabilities required by law is “a system of verification to find out whether or not the machine has registered his choice.” No such system was provided in the 2010 and 2013 AES.
The election processes of ballot evaluation, vote recording and counting, preparation of election returns, canvassing and consolation of election results, and the preparation of canvass results must be made transparent and publicly observable in the AES.
Since the Comelec intends to re-use most of the same AES used in the 2010 and 2013 elections, the software must be modified to make the processes transparent. LCD projectors may be connected to the PCOS machines to display the picture images of the ballots for public scrutiny and make the other election processes transparent. LCD projectors may also be connected to canvassing servers so that election results received may be displayed for public review and the process of canvassing and consolidation may similarly be made transparent.
Another option is to go back to the traditional voting as meticulously described in BP881. The processes of the vote counting and preparation of election returns shall be technology assisted while ensuring that the processes are publicly observable. Transmission and canvassing and consolidation of election results shall likewise be technology assisted.
For sure, many will argue that the suggested transparency options will slow down the whole process. Indeed, it will. The polling precinct operations will take longer compared to 2010 and 2013. Time savings may still be realized in the process of canvassing and consolidation. But, if the choice is between transparency and speed, transparency should be it!
Let’s face IT. The veil of secrecy that impairs transparency needs to be lifted to build public confidence in the AES and ensure credibility of the election results.