New lawmakers can refine automated polls
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - May 15, 2019 - 12:00am

The meme is untrue that ex-VP Jojo Binay’s ballot was voided because he had voted two contending offspring as mayor of Makati. The winner in ten post-Marcos elections tried eight times to insert the sheet but the voting machine wouldn’t swallow it. He had to complain in person to the Comelec national command center in Manila. The ballot or the machine was faulty. Still had Binay not been second-highest official of the land, would he have been issued a fresh ballot? We’ll never know how many others met the same problem, or couldn’t find their names in voter lists, or tired of long voting lines so left unable to exercise suffrage. Surely the newly elected lawmakers went through or know of constituents suffering voting snafus.

Those were varied last Monday. Paper jams interrupted the voting machines. One in Lapu-Lapu City was videoed being pounded after each ballot was put in to make it accept the next. A thousand programmed SD-cards flopped. The P1.2-billion experimental registration verification in dozens of pilot precincts was so slow it had to be dumped by midmorning. Nearly 600 failed machines had to be replaced, causing more hours of delay. One cannot belittle the foul-ups as affecting only 600,000 voters, or one percent of the total 61 million. If concentrated in one locale, the electoral outcomes drastically could be affected.

The new lawmakers can review the election automation law for improvements. Balloting – from voter identification, vote casting, precinct counting, result transmission, and canvassing or consolidation – needs integrating into one continuous process. As it is, ID cards do not even contain the voter’s precinct number and location. The voter shows it to be let into the schoolyard polling center, but must still elbow through the crowd that’s perusing the registration list on the bulletin board. Then he looks for the precinct’s assigned classroom. After a long queue he is finally let in where he needs to find his name in another roster. Only then is he handed a ballot to fill in. Then he lines up again to feed the ballot into the machine, await his receipt to verify the scanning, drop it into a box, and leave. The ordeal can take hours.

I’ve observed elections in other lands take a voter less than 12 minutes. He swipes his card through the electronic verifier to be let into a hall. He is handed a ballot and proceeds to a booth to shade the votes, or punch out the chads, or press the screen instructions like a bank ATM. The ease of voting does not necessitate making Election Day a holiday. The voter can go back to work or play after a short break, then await the results after sundown.

Automation must be transparent without sacrificing ballot secrecy. Voters must be able to see, understand, and audit every phase to trust it. The present law specifies 15 safeguards for voting machines; the Comelec must be made to comply with all.

Automation must be accurate. Present laws require a comfortable 99.995-percent correctness by vote counting machines. But other factors can mar it: poor ballot paper quality, defective printing, marker ink bleeding or blotting, smudging on electronic eyes, programming error, insufficient shading, backup battery conk-out, even weather conditions and more. Worst is result manipulation. All must be overcome.

Automation must be fast. Speed makes it easy on the voter and the teacher-election inspector. Instantaneous transmission averts ballot-box snatching and “dagdag-bawas” (vote padding-shaving) at the canvassing. Any cheating would be limited outside the system, like vote-buying that can be dealt with by other means.

A major consideration is cost. Direct recording electronic (DRE) or touch-screen voting has been deemed too expensive. It would require hundreds of thousands of machines, for simultaneous use in voting centers. Cost can be upwards of P45 billion per election.

The present optical mark reader (OMR), or scanner type from Venezuela presently in Comelec use, is costly too. About P24 billion is spent to lease-purchase, accessorize, deploy, retrieve, and warehouse close to a hundred thousand units. It requires tons of specially printed ballots, millions of marking pens, and other paraphernalia and forms. Election watchdogs have been assailing the machines’ being prone to result tampering.

Lawmakers can consult Filipino computer and telecom experts for cheaper workable alternatives. At least three models have been designed and test-run in recent years. All rely on readily available hard and software – like ordinary PCs and smartphones – and cost less than P2 billion.

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May God guide our new leaders.

“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” – 1Peter 5:2-3

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