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Groups push for transparency, 'hybrid' counting for 2010

November 25, 2008 11:01pm
MANILA, Philippines – With the 2010 elections approaching, a coalition of civil society groups on Tuesday called for transparency in the election process in a bid to prevent, if not eliminate, cases of poll fraud.

At the same time, the groups pushed for a "hybrid" system of counting for the coming polls, saying that the Commission on Elections' system is still open to cheating.

In a forum in Makati City, the Movement for Good Governance particularly tackled election automation and underscored its advantages and drawbacks on efforts to introduce electoral reform.

Speaking before the forum was National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) Information Technology systems head and technology expert Augusto Lagman, a proponent and critic of automated elections.

Lagman expressed reservations regarding the proposed direct recording electronic (DRE) technology and the optical mark reader (OMR) machines that the government plans on using for the full automation of the forthcoming elections.

The DRE system allows voting through a touch-screen or touch-pad, while the OMR system requires voters to shade an oval corresponding to the candidate's name on a paper ballot. The ballot is then read by the OMR machine.

Lagman said that while both systems are beneficial, "wholesale cheating" will not yet be completely eliminated as poll results can still be tampered with "because of human intervention."

He then added that the systems are not transparent to the eyes of the public and "voters will still distrust vote-counting that they do not see."

Lagman then said that even if Commission on Elections (Comelec) claimed that the recent Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) automated polls held in August 2008 was successful, it "was a mere formality" and "was not a good place to test the (automated) system."

"The ARMM as a region has a significance only when it is part of the national elections," Lagman said, noting that the region is self-ruling and its developments are but internal matters.

Another system

The Namfrel IT systems chief instead proposed the Open Elections System (OES), a Web-based solution that makes use of a portal through which the Comelec encoders can directly post election returns or transmit data via mobile phone (SMS) messaging.

It is a "hybrid" process that uses manual counting of votes at the precinct level and automated systems in the succeeding levels. This mechanism makes the election process more transparent than other technologies, Lagman said.

Under the system, election returns (ERs) will be brought to an encoding center. The ERs will then be validated then posted on the Web with the Board of Election Inspectors' digital signatures. The City/Municipality Board of Canvassers will produce the Statement of Votes and Certificate of Canvasses in an online database.

All interested parties may access the database and process the read-only data by themselves. All interested parties may likewise send text messages to poll watchers to verify the results.

Lagman said the OES system encourages transparency and public participation as ordinary citizens can play an active role in monitoring election results.

Lagman added that they are moving to make the proposal to the Comelec and to gather public support and volunteers should the system be approved.

'We Deserve Better'

The forum was entitled "We Deserve Better" and was organized to push for transparency and accountability in the government.

Automated elections is one of the key issues in governance and civic participation the movement.

"We formed the Movement for Good Governance because we felt this country deserves better. We felt that we should organize a constituency for reform which would actively work to bring about good governance," the group said in a statement.

"Some may call this naiveté but we believe it is worth trying and is possible. The status quo of traditional politics and traditional citizen action will only drag us down further," the group added. -Sophia Dedace, GMANews.TV
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