Ready, Set, Vote! This Time, Automatically!March 14, 2010
by Nicole Sun, with Janier Cruz
It’s a few months before the 2010 elections and I don’t know about you, but we’re beginning to feel the heat! From being bombarded with the wash of jingles and massive photos of the candidates’ faces plastered everywhere, it has been pretty hard to miss. Besides the race to the presidential trophy, the Philippine nation is also gunning to step up in the technological innovations category.
We all know that our country tries to keep up with the times, and what better way can we achieve this than by implementing the new system in conducting our perennially inefficient elections. Systematically speaking, the automation program aims to achieve two things for its first shot at the national elections come May 2010. First, it seeks to speed up the voting process because voters will just blot out, not anymore write down, the names of candidates they’re voting for. And second, it intends to accelerate the tabulation of votes by automatically recording and adding them up, and sending them to Commission on Elections (COMELEC) centers for collation. Within 24 hours, the nation would know the winning candidates for the respective national and local offices.
COMELEC has tied up with Smartmatic-TIM with a whopping P7.2-billion contract to produce 82,200 PCOS (Precinct Count Optical Scan System) machines and a P243-million contract to manufacture the ballot boxes for the May polls. Only about 76,000 machines will be used in the elections because each clustered precinct will only use one unit, the rest merely serving as backup machines.
Here’s the back story on the creation of the automation system. Senator Richard Gordon is the Election Automation Act’s principal author, which basically targets the automation of elections in the Philippines. Accordingly, the Congress passed the Election Automation Act in 2006. Wanting to be noted as a big “game changer” in Philippine politics, Gordon believes that such legislative piece would sharply cut down the extent of cheating, vote-buying, and voter-manipulation by candidates.
However, the name may actually sound quite deceiving for the average citizen. We think people have sketches in their imagination of computerized counting machines or of encoded voting process. The automated election system essentially depends on how voters will fill out their respective ballots. There will be strict implementation of technical regulations else their votes would be invalidated because of failure to correctly fill out the ballots. Voters have to completely shade the corresponding ovals for the candidates in each of the ballot, otherwise the machine will not read the ballot and the vote will not be counted. “Over voting,” or shading more ovals than being contested, would also render the vote invalid (e.g., a voter shading 13 ovals for the supposed 12 seats of the senate). COMELEC will not be printing excess ballots to prevent fraud.
Taken from GMANews.tv, here’s a how-to guide on how to place your votes:
To address the possible problems that might ensue with the implementation of the automated polls, COMELEC and Smartmatic-TIM are now undertaking massive voter’s education campaign so people won’t unknowingly create errors and invalidate their votes.
The public has voiced out reservations regarding this technological advancement. Hacking to change or compromise votes is the primary concern, but the COMELEC has reassured that it has covered all the bases to avoid such damage. Machines could very well be rigged to go on the fritz from continuous use. And quite recently, the entire nation has experienced rotating blackout drills. Others speculate this as a dubious exercise to sabotage and turn the power off come the May 2010 elections, but then again that might just be the conspiracy theorists talking.
This big leap into automated national elections is badly needed by our country and our people if we’re to sustain faith in our democracy and retain some political credibility in the world. From the Filipinos, the real big question though is, are we ready?