PATAS and TAPAT are two alternative voting systems demonstrated at recent mock election exercises witnessed by some Commission on Elections (Comelec) officials and found to be viable alternatives to the PCOS machines. But the same officials are quick to state that the Comelec no longer has the luxury of time to experiment and consider these alternatives for use in the 2016 presidential elections.
Designers and developers of PATAS (meaning “even” and connoting an even playing field) and TAPAT (meaning “honest, loyal”) emphasize that these are two attributes of the most suitable technology for Philippine elections, reflecting transparency, credibility, and accuracy as prime considerations in the design of the voting systems.
While PATAS involves traditional balloting, technology-assisted counting of the ballots, and electronic transmission of election returns, its designers and developers emphasize that the voting system is the most transparent compared with other voting systems. An LCD projector is used during the counting of votes, with the progress of the counting displayed in full view of watchers and observers. The ballot, too, will be displayed on screen so that watchers and observers can scrutinize the same together with the members of the Board of Election Inspectors.
TAPAT, on the other hand, uses a lotto-type ballot. The voting machine will print a voter verified paper audit trail or VVPAT when the lotto-type ballot is scanned, a transparency measure required under the Election Automation Law, Republic Act No. 8436 as amended by Republic Act No. 9369.
Development of these alternative voting systems is a testament to the Filipinos’ talent in developing IT systems, a talent recognized world-wide. Filipino IT skilled workforce have long been deployed in other countries while some local IT companies provide support to global companies.
The Comelec should continue to look into the viability these two alternative voting systems. It should formulate an evaluation system that takes into consideration the minimum system capabilities prescribed under the law. Then use the same evaluation system to re-assess the PCOS.
The consolidation and canvassing system is another critical component of the automated election system. In 2011, then Commissioner Gus Lagman had Comelec’s IT Department develop its own consolidation and canvassing system. But the internally developed software was never even considered for use. The head of the Comelec Law Department then opined that the consolidation and canvassing system must have been used in a prior election exercise as required by the Election Automation Law. If such was a strict requirement, then no consolidation and canvassing system supplied by any vendor would have qualified for use in Philippine elections. No consolidation and canvassing system supplied by any vendor will meet the unique procedural requirements of Philippine elections.
Another critical component of the automated election system is electronic transmission. In a recent bid for this component, only one bidder tendered its bid. None of the local telecommunications companies tendered a bid for the service. Once again, it looks like that electronic transmission of election results will be left in the hands of a foreign vendor.
Indeed, the Comelec does not have the luxury of time. But it should not fall the way of the line of least resistance and use what Comelec deems a “technology that has been tried and tested.”
The PCOS machines may have already been tried and tested but it only came out with many unresolved issues in the last two elections. For instance, while it is claimed that the PCOS machine can print a VVPAT, it was disabled because it can be used for vote buying. Surely, procedures can be instituted to prevent voters from bringing with them the VVPAT out of polling precincts. Some of the other issues against the PCOS that remain unresolved are verifiability of the votes, accuracy of the vote count, transparency, cost-effectiveness, validity of the digital signatures used to sign the election returns and its ability to electronically transmit 100% of the election returns.
Even if the existing PCOS machines were repaired and fully restored to operating condition, would the deficiencies found in the last two elections be resolved? Will the existing PCOS machines be made to work in accordance with the requirements of the Election Automation Law?
Only ten months remain before the 2016 elections. It is worth noting that Filipino IT professionals can work under pressure. It is suggested that the Comelec now work closely with the proponents of the alternative voting system to come up with a project plan
Let’s face IT. The PCOS machines still have unresolved issues. Should Filipino voters accept a system that has fallen short and continues to fall short of the requirements of the law? PATAS and TAPAT are viable solutions that meet the requirements of the Election Automation Law. Both voting systems were made by Filipinos, for Filipinos.