Friday, March 6, 2009


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Poll automation is the buzzword for the coming 2010 elections. To better understand the issues - which are not few - and give our two cents worth, we should first educate ourselves what this poll automation or computerization of the elections is all about.

On January 23, 2007, Republic Act No. 9369 was signed into law. The complete name of the law is too long so let's just call it the election automation law. This law authorizes the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to use an automated election system for local and national elections. This law, passed by the 13th Congress, is the basis of the current move to automate the upcoming elections.

However, as elections draw near, some congressmen - others even voted for the automation law - are expressing doubts if automation, let alone full automation, can be achieved by 2010. Legislators are divided into two camps: (1) those that favor full automation - meaning complete computerization of the voting and counting process from the precinct to the national level and (2) those that call for partial automation or hybrid elections - meaning computerization only in certain apects while retaining manual work in other aspects of the voting and counting process.

The chief proponent of partial automation is House Deputy Speaker Pablo Garcia of Cebu. Garcia proposes a hybrid system where voting and counting at the precinct level and canvassing at the municipal, city, provincial or district levels are held manually just like what we have been doing in past elections. The automation comes only in the transmission of the results from the precinct to the municipal and city level, then from there to the provinicial or district levels, and so forth. Garcia justifies his proposal by arguing that full automation violates RA 9369, which mandates both manual and electronic system of elections.

Garcia also claims that a fully automated election is unconstitutional bacause people will not have a conscious, deliberate and intelligent participation in the electoral process.

Another variation of the proposal for a hybrid election is limiting automation to national positions (president, vice president, senators, and party list representatives), while retaining manual elections for local positions from congressmen to governors, vice governors, mayors, vice mayors, provincial, city and municipal board members. COMELEC disagrees with this proposal by saying that it will only cause confusion to voters and poll officials.

On the other side is Cagayan De Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez who has filed a bill for full automation.

Another issue confronting congressmen is the mode of computerization that will be carried out by COMELEC. According to House Speaker Prospero Nograles, a companion bill to the recently passed poll automation budget of P11.3 billion is needed to guide COMELEC on the manner of carrying out the automation. Meanwhile, COMELEC Chairman Jose Melo and Makati Representative Teodoro Locsin, Jr., chairman of the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms, agree that COMELEC gets to decide on the type of automated elections and not Congress. Locsin filed a resolution asking Congress not to hint or impose a technology of choice on the COMELEC as it will be the one to decide the matter.

Although COMELEC appears to be leaning toward an Optical Mark Reader (OMR) system, some groups such as the Movement for Good Governance are proposing the so-called Open Elections System (OES). The OMR uses the same system for computerized testing wherein voters shade a bubble or circle opposite the candidate of choice on specially prepared papers, which will in turn be fed into a computer. The computer will scan or read the marks made and record them as votes. Under the OES, voting and counting at the precinct level will be the same as in previous elections, but after getting the results they will be entered into a computer using the OES software, which could then be accessed through the internet by the public.

Proponents of the OES claim that the OMR system lacks transparency, because everything is left to computers which could make the internal process of vote recording, counting and tabulation suspect. Voters, they say, are wary of a process that they do not see. Unlike the OMR, the public can see the votes for each candidate and the results obtained at the precinct level in an OES. Furthermore, they argue that handwriting is essential because this allows for the determination of whether the same person cast more than one vote for a particular candidate. Obviously, this cannot be done in an OMR system where only shaded boxes or bubbles could be seen and which allows one person to shade more than one ballot. OMR proponents, on the other hand, counter that handwriting is one of the biggest problems in past elections. According to them, by determining the choice through shaded boxes or bubbles, ineligible handwriting, voter forgetfulness of candidates' names, mistakes in spellings, and problems associated with similarly-named candidates are avoided. They also criticize the OES by saying it is too dependent on individuals who could manipulate the results being entered into a computer.

Election watchdogs National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) and Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) reportedly support the OMR in principle, while the social action arm of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the National Secretariat for Social Action-Justice and Peace, is endorsing the OES.

Other systems are the punch card system and the direct reading electronic voting system (DRE). Voters punch a hole with a metal stylus to indicate their candidate of choice on cardboards, which are fed to computers in a punch card system. The punched holes are read by the computer as votes. This is the system that was used in Florida during the 2000 US presidential election where former Vice President Al Gore, then a presidential candidate against George W. Bush, sought a recount of the votes on claims that many ballots (cards) were not properly punched by voters, leaving the punched-out portions still hanging attached to the ballots, hence were not read by computers. These came to be known as the famous hanging chads.

The DRE allows voters to cast their votes either by touching the computer screen (using touch screen technology) or by using a computer mouse to click on the candidate of choice.

The last Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) elections used the OMR and DRE systems.

Now that the P11.3 billion poll automation budget has been passed, COMELEC Chairman Jose Melo announced that bidding for the automation machines is already being worked out and hopes to choose the supplier by May. It may dampen the spirit of OES proponents to know that COMELEC seems to have already chosen the Precinct Count Optical System or the OMR system by lining up possible bidders for this type of machine.

1 comment:

  1. I definitely agree with you there, as I recently before, "Poll automation is the buzzword for the coming 2010 elections." I'm just hope for a clean and safe election this 2010.