Comelec’s Automation to Worsen Election Fraud — Watchdog
By the Policy Study, Publication, and Advocacy (PSPA)
Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
When at most 70 percent of some 50 million voters go to the polls on May 10, 2010, they won’t be able to track how their votes are counted or canvassed. Winners in the national and local elections led by a new president will be declared two or three days after – and the whole nation will be at a loss in knowing whether the election results are real. Protests may probably be hard to file not only because of a lack of paper trail but also for lack of time.
The trouble with the Precinct Count Optical Sensor (PCOS) adopted by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for use in the 2010 elections is that it does not guarantee an open, transparent, and credible automated system. Under the PCOS, the voter shades a ballot which s/he then drops inside a ballot box. Because voters are unfamiliar with the new technology voting will be slow and is extended to 6 p.m. after which all ballot boxes are brought to the precinct counting center – about 80,000 of them all over the country. Here, the ballots are fed into the optical mark reader (OMR) for counting and an election return (ER) is generated. The ERs are then electronically transmitted via the OMR simultaneously to the municipal, provincial, and national canvassing centers and, voila, the winners are proclaimed.
Engrossed with implementing RA 9369 which mandates the automation of elections, the Comelec appears to have glossed over the fact that Filipino voters have been looking for open, transparent, and credible elections. Making the counting and canvassing of election results fast may be a positive move which the poll body claims to be addressing. But unless elections are credible – which previous polls have been bereft of due to widespread fraud – then more and more voters will shy away from the polls.
Poll automation feeds the wrong impression to the public that elections will be clean and credible. Because it is a machine, it is powerless against any fraud that takes place before, during, and after the elections. And, because it is just a machine, it is vulnerable to human intervention such as software attack, glitches, and other technical problems that could result in wholesale electronic cheating. (See www.cenpeg.org for papers and powerpoints on election automation.) The high stakes in the 2010 elections, including choosing a new president, administration attempts to make sure that the next president is friendly to Gloria M. Arroyo, as well as the 17,000 national and local seats up for grabs by some 90,000 candidates will make fraud machineries sabotage the whole electoral process using both the traditional and modern technology.
If pilot tests determine what technology makes for credible elections, then the conduct and results of the August 2008 Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) should make the OMR machine not suited for the coming polls. In that automated election, at least 23 common errors and other deficiencies were recorded in relation to the use of OMR and the Digital Recording Electronic (DRE). Based on the tests, the Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) in its October 2008 report found the poll body technically ill-equipped to meet the complexities of an automated election system (AES). Meanwhile, ARMM poll watchers conceded that open cheating was rampant in many precincts thus effectively influencing the outcome of the elections. Incidentally, multinationals Smartmatic and Avante whose technologies were tested in the ARMM polls are again making a bid for the P11.3 billion election automation equipment to be used in the May 2010 polls.
Given the expected operations of fraud machineries in the coming elections, one way by which the present Comelec can at least minimize cheating is to make poll automation open, transparent, credible, and participatory. It does not make sense that the poll body has chosen the OMR which makes counting and canvassing of votes invisible to the eye with Comelec perhaps hoping that the poll officials, machines, vendors, software developers, electronic transmission systems, and other technical services can be trusted.
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