LET’S take a trip back in time to the election days in 2010 and 2013.
On both days, I, with so many other voters, trooped to the voting center in our barangay. Finding my precinct, I patiently waited until it was my turn. Having been cleared by the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI), I was handed by the BEI Chairman my ballot. I dutifully filled it out, shading the “bilog na hugis itlog” opposite the names of the candidates of my choice per contest. I then proceeded to the PCOS machine, inserted my ballot, and a message that said “Congratulations” was displayed on the display panel.
At end of polling, under the watchful eyes of many election watchers, the election return was printed and transmitted, many successfully.
Some election watchers then rushed to the canvassing center at the city/municipal level. There, at least in 2010, was a large display of election return transmission status, some with green buttons, others yellow, and the rest red. The green buttons signified that the election return had been received, yellow indicated that the receipt of the transmission was on-going, and red indicated that no transmission has been detected.
But there was no display of the contents of the received transmission. Then, at some point, the canvass results were printed and transmitted to the next canvassing level.
Allow me now to ask the voters who voted in the 2010 and 2013 elections:
“Did you see how your votes were recorded and, if so, were they recorded properly and accurately?”
And, let me ask the election watchers:
“Did you see how the PCOS machine processed each ballot and count the votes and, if so, was it done properly and accurately?”
“Did you see if the PCOS machine processed all ballots?”
“And at the canvassing center, did you see how the election returns were processed?”
I am sure that you responded with a resounding “NO” to the above questions.
This is because, with the PCOS, all processes–between the time that I inserted my ballot into the PCOS ballot slot and my ballot was accepted by the PCOS until the PCOS printed the election return–have been hidden from public observation.
And with the canvassing system, the execution of the instructions on how to process each election return and consolidate the vote counts have been hidden from public view.
A system of letting the voter know if his votes have been properly and accurately recorded is required by Republic Act No. 8436 as amended by Republic Act No. 9369, or the Election Automation Law. It is unfortunate that this system was not provided in the existing PCOS machines.
A system to show how the PCOS machines inspected the ballots for votes and how the PCOS machine was supposed to count the votes was also not provided.
A system that would have shown how the canvassing system processed each election return and consolidate the votes was not provided as well.
There is no transparency in the automated election system!
The need for transparency — or the quality that something can be observed openly — is enshrined in Section 1, “Declaration of Policy” of the Election Automation Law. Referring to election processes and in adopting an automated system, Section 1 of the law reads, in part, “x xx in order that the process shall be TRANSPARENT and credible and that the results shall be fast, accurate and reflective of the genuine will of the people.”
Transparency solutions, admittedly, will slow down the process. But why should we prioritize speed over transparency? A fertile ground for doubt and mistrust has developed with election processes in the current automated election system shrouded in secrecy.
We should avoid being slaves to information technology. We should use information technology to improve our election processes.
The counting of votes at the precinct level and consolidation of votes at all canvassing levels can be technology-assisted.
For instance, we can use computers with touch screens in combination with LCD projectors to go back to the old-style taras (stick-count) counting system.
Or, the PCOS can be combined with a LCD projector and equipped with a system that will allow observation of how the PCOS would evaluate a ballot and count the votes therein and record the same in a tally-sheet-like electronic matrix or table of results, which shall be used as basis for generating the election return.
LCD projectors, too, can be connected to the canvassing machines so that election returns received from PCOS machines or canvassing results from lower levels of canvass can be displayed on large screens for all election watchers to see. The process of vote consolidation can likewise be displayed.
Let’s face IT. Transparency of all election processes is non-negotiable.
In designing or adopting an automated election system, transparency should be THE PRIORITY. After all, the law requires it.