Transparent and credible election system

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AS part of the National Science and Technology Week, held at the SMX on July 24-28, 2014, the Comelec [Commission on Elections] Advisory Council (CAC) organized a Technology Fair, inviting vendors of automated election systems (AES) to present their solutions to the council, the Comelec itself, the media, and other interested parties.

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The CAC Chairman, Under-Secretary Louis Casambre of the Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO), was kind enough, even on short notice, to allow TransparentElections.org.ph (that’s us), in cooperation with Namfrel, to participate in the presentations.

Those who presented were: 1) Dominion Voting System; 2) Indra; 3) Lambton Technologies; 4) Scytl; 5) Smartmatic; 6) Unisyn; 7) VSG Voting System; and 8) TransparentElection.org.ph (TEop). The first six presented a mix of OMR (Optical Mark Recognition) and Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) systems. The seventh was a punched-card system; while the eighth (ours), a combination of manual precinct-counting, electronic transmission, and automated consolidation and canvassing. Only VSG and Teop are Filipino developers, the latter presenting its Transparent and Credible Election System, or TCrES.

To put the issues in their proper perspective, let me mention that the main reasons for automating our elections are:

(1) to improve the accuracy of the counting of votes and tabulation of results;

(2) to eliminate, or at least minimize, cheating;

(3) to make the process more, not less, transparent to the public; and

(4) to speedup the process.

Almost all vendors can claim (even if some claims are untrue) to have the capability to improve accuracy, eliminate cheating, and cut down the processing time to a week or less. But, only TCrES can also clearly claim to have the capability to make the election process MORE, not less, transparent.

Why is transparency important?

If the voters do not see how their votes are counted, how will they know that their votes were counted correctly?

Of the many countries that have reverted from automated to manual precinct-counting, Germany, in particular, did so not only because it wants the voters to see the counting, its Constitution also wants the voters to understand how their votes were counted.

Transparency is required by Republic Act No. 9369, signed January 23, 2007. The very title of RA 9369, 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).

If there’s cheating in manual elections, the voters and candidates would see and would have a basis for protesting. With automated precinct-counting, nobody would see the cheating. It is so unfair to the candidates that even if they are so sure of winning in a particular precinct (their bailiwick, for instance), it is so difficult, because of the lack of transparency, to prove the cheating. The protest process is thus very much impaired, a situation that saddened many losing, perhaps, cheated, candidates in the 2013 elections.

An organization in the United States called Black Box Voting said that in designing technology for elections, we must ensure that it will enable “the counting of votes in public rather than counting them in secret. We do not consent to any form of secret vote counting, administered and controlled by government insiders and their vendors.” Today’s election mantra worldwide is, “Secret voting, public counting.”

To show you how transparent it is, here’s TCrES, in brief:

1. VOTING—same as in the past manual voting, possibly with re-designed (for simplicity and efficiency) pre-printed ballots

2. PRECINCT COUNTING—same as in the past manual counting (“taras”), but with improved design of Tally Sheet forms and Election Returns, for more accurate and less cumbersome counting

3. Encoding, verification, and ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION of precinct results to the Municipal Board of Canvassers (MBOC) and the Central Verification Server (CVS)

4. Automated CONSOLIDATION and CANVASSING of votes at the municipal, provincial, and national levels

An interesting additional step to the above is the simultaneous precinct-counting—a sort of electronic “taras”—using a tablet (an iPad, or equivalent), projecting this to a big screen so more people can see what’s going on (therefore, MORE transparent), then printing the tablet’s version of the Election Returns (ER). After verifying that this version of the ER matches with the manual one, the tablet can then electronically transmit it to the MBOC and CVS. No need to encode the ER, since it is already in digital format.

The manual precinct counting will only take 5-12 hours, as in the past. A few precincts which might encounter problems, could take a bit longer. On the other hand, the Consolidation and Canvassing phase, which will now be automated, will be cut down from as long as six weeks, to just a few days. N o more dagdag-bawas.

This real situation is the reason we have been asking Comelec the question: Why spend billions of pesos on PCOS, which only cuts down the election process by half a day, but removes the transparency in the counting process? It is, after all, the automation of the canvassing that shortens the process from six weeks down to a few days.

The Comelec should respond to this question. The P20 billion it wasted on the 2010 and 2013 elections came from taxpayers. Taxpayers deserve to know!

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5 Comments

  1. Bakit kasi Despite the perceived FAIRNESS, DAANG MATUWID GOALS OF THIS ADMIN, you were not given chance to present or try your System? Is it because, it seems the Pcos counted the elections right and fast during th 2010, 2013? And perhaps, they do not fully Trust you, despite your seemingly True presentation? Hoping that you do not Give up in trying, Most especially if your System is Fair. Keep it up

  2. Carlo L. Adan on

    Yes, sir. The Comelec MUST answer that fundamental question you have posed in the last paragraphs..

    And your Transparent and Credible Election System, or TCrES, must be made the system in the 2016 election.

    Philippine democracy will be doomed and the 2016 election will be as unjust and untransparent and the results as dubious as those of 2010 and 2013 if these evil PCOS machines and the Smartmatic system continue to control our elections with the blessings of the Comelec.

    You must get the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, the Philippine National Council of Churches, the Rotary Club of the Philippines, the Jaycees, the Boys Scouts of the Philippines, the Girls Scouts, the YMCA and YWCA, the many Civil Society Organizations not controlled by the Yellow Army to support your noble, scientific and transparent TCrES system.

    Times readers, please join in a prayer movement and social media campaign to remove the secret and opaque PCOS machines and Smartmatic system from our country’s elections.

    .

  3. Yes you are correct. I can only think that any process that is cloaked from view is a process made to be dishonest. Anything that makes a vote count and finished vote results faster but unseen is against the people. I am all for going to a complete hand count if that is the only way to make the process become open to all eyes.

  4. Asiong Ignacio on

    I am neither an IT expert nor a lawyer. In your article, you mentioned that as the voter turns in his/her completed ballot, the information on the ballot would be updated in an IPad. Who inputs the information in the IPad? Would the voter be around to verify his vote was counted and updated in the IPad? Would this not show to the rest of the people in the precint who the voter voted for? Defeats secrecy. Why not count the ballots after the precint closes under the watchful eyes of political inspectors and the public? Then if everything has been authenticated, electronic transferring of the data can be implemented.

    • Gus Lagman reply to Mr. Ignacio

      Dear Mr. Ignacio,

      Thank you for your comment. The information in the ballot will not be reflected in the tablet at all. As in past manual elections, the voter would simply drop his ballot into the ballot box. The electronic “taras” will be done simultaneously with the manual precinct-counting — after the voting closes. As the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) reads the votes aloud, they are marked (“taras”) in the “manual” Tally Sheet and Election Returns (as in the past); the person handling the tablet will likewise “mark” the electronic “taras” in the tablet, which process would be projected to a big screen. The electronic step would therefore be only a duplication of the manual step; however, transparency is enhanced because of the big screen. Plus, at the end of the counting, the results would already be captured in digital format — ready for verification and then, transmission.–