I really don’t get it!
Despite all the compelling reasons why they should not, the Comelec still entertains the use of PCOS and other automated precinct-counting technologies. Let me enumerate just three of these compelling reasons.
First, these technologies violate the automation law. The very title of Republic Act No. 9369, signed January 23, 2007, says, “AN ACT AUTHORIZING THE COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS TO USE AN AUTOMATED SYSTEM … TO ENCOURAGE TRANSPARENCY, CREDIBILITY, FAIRNESS AND ACCURACY OF ELECTIONS …” Section 1 further says that, “… the process shall be transparent and credible and that results shall be fast, accurate and reflective of the genuine will of the people.” (Emphasis mine).
I know no existing automated precinct-counting system today that is transparent! You automate the precinct counting, you hide the counting process. Plain and simple. Nobody sees how the votes are counted. You rely on the competence and integrity of the software provider, foreigners all; you rely on the integrity of the Comelec. Consequently, the only “trusted” document outside of the ballot itself—the Election Returns (ER)—cannot be trusted. (Unfortunately, the ballot is next to useless as a “control” or verification document because the ballot box may not be opened unless a presiding judge or Comelec allows it during a protest process.)
Since the counting cannot be trusted, a compromise solution was included in the law – and that is, for the source code to be made available for the review by interested parties and groups and by an international certification entity. Yet, in both 2010 and 2013 elections, the source code was not made available to interested parties and groups. Another serious violation of the law by the Comelec.
Even if the required reviews were allowed, the process would still not have been fool-proof because Comelec made no attempt to ensure that the officially reviewed source code was what was installed in each of the PCOS machines. The official source code might have been pure and unpolluted, but the version installed in the field could have been tampered with.
Second, it is common knowledge that the many “miraculous” results during the 2013 elections could only have been the result of “automated” tampering. Even an ardent supporter of PCOS in 2010 who was in fact involved in its implementation, admitted to me that in 2013, many election operators must have already known how to manipulate the results and they must have done so with the help of technical people. Those in the IT profession know how easy it must have been.
Third, an automated precinct-counting system, faulty and non-transparent as it is, will only shorten the process by half a day, at best. So why do we want to waste precious funds just to save 12 hours?
The only truly transparent system for precinct counting is the old manual way. In combination with a good consolidation and canvassing system and a reliable electronic transmission system, we can finally achieve transparent, accurate, and credible elections.
To be sure, there are valid concerns about manual counting. For one, the teachers who compose the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) have gotten used, during the last two elections, to not having to count the ballots anymore. They most likely wouldn’t want to go back to that unwieldy process again. And I wouldn’t blame them because the compensation would not be commensurate to the hours worked. But what if their allowances were doubled? Maybe they’d be willing to work more hours. I would rather see the budget going to teachers than to some foreign vendor. As what happened in 2010 and 2013.
Or, why not deputize a separate team to do the counting? Other civil servants and volunteers can compose these teams. In other countries, including the United States, many of those who man the precincts are volunteers . . . sometimes a dozen of them in one precinct. Surely, we can find enough of them here. Namfrel was able to gather some 500,000 dedicated volunteers in 1986.
The counting system itself can be improved and the precinct tally forms redesigned to make the whole process easier, faster, and less prone to errors. A simple suggestion I made when I was still a Comelec Commissioner resulted in the elimination of the voter’s having to sign again after he has cast his ballot, thus simplifying the process and making it smoother.
What to me is not a valid objection to manual counting is to say that it would be retrogression and like going back to “horse and carriage” travel. This objection is often used by those who can’t think of any valid counter-argument against manual counting. Germany, The Netherlands, and Ireland went back from a fully-automated election system to manual. I understand that some 18 out of the 30 countries that have automated their election systems, have gone back to manual. Many of these are highly-developed countries. And their reason is common—the lack of transparency in automated precinct-counting technologies.
There’s one thing that’s common though in many countries and, in fact, in many election systems—they all automate the consolidation and canvassing. This is something that we, election automation advocates, have been promoting as early as 2008—manual precinct counting, electronic transmission, and automated consolidation and canvassing.
So what is it that continues to attract the Comelec Commissioners to entertain vendors of automated precinct-counting systems? Your naïve guess is as good as mine. Here’s another naïve question—why does the Comelec want to bid this item out before February 2015?