By LITO AVERIA
October 09, 2019
THE clock is ticking, but there has been no clear action on the part of advocates for an alternative election system to replace the automated election system (AES) that was used in the last four national and local elections. Advocates should come together to define what the desirable alternative should be.
In the meantime, one proposed bill on the hybrid election system has been filed in the Senate and another five in the House of Representatives. Only House Bill 3896 defines the hybrid election system, which is “a system using a combination of manual casting of votes, manual counting of votes and electronic transmission of precinct-level election results to the consolidation and canvassing boards, stations or servers.” Automated consolidation and the canvassing of election results should be added to the definition.
The next national and local elections are scheduled for May 2022, or in just over two-and-a-half years. Considering that preparing for an election that uses an automated system takes about two years, the proposed bills must pass the legislative hurdles and get passed into law in the first quarter of 2020 at the latest.
What are the characteristics of a desirable election system?
Transparency comes to mind as a primary characteristic.
Derived from the election principle of “secret voting, public counting,” transparency requires that the counting of votes must be a publicly observable process.
The proposed bills call for a public counting of votes, where the preparation of the election returns is simultaneously done manually and electronically using a laptop. While the digital election return is being prepared, it is required that it be projected on a screen, while the entries are recorded in real time for the watchers to validate and the public to see.
If a discrepancy between the manually prepared election returns and the digital election returns is found, the results in the manual election returns shall prevail. This assumes that the voting results recorded in the manually prepared election returns is correct. This may raise some concerns, considering that the preparation of the digital election returns is easily observable by watchers as the bills require that it be projected onscreen, while the recording of votes in the manual election returns is not as easily observable.
Accuracy of the election results must be ensured. To do this, verifying the accuracy of the recording of votes during the vote counting must be included in the process. As provided in the Omnibus Election Code, the ballots must be counted and divided into piles and vote counting done on a per pile basis. As may be applied in the hybrid election system, upon completion of a pile of ballots during the count, the results recorded in the manual election returns may be compared with the results in the digital election returns and reconciliation done for the specific pile of ballots.
At any rate, if the digital election returns need to be corrected, the proposed bills require that, as a security measure, all three members of the board of election inspectors (BEI) enter their respective digital signatures into the laptop before any such action can be taken.
Integrity of election results is another characteristic.
To ensure the integrity of the election results, the proposed bills require that an image of the manually prepared election returns be captured, inspected and compared with the manual election returns.
The digital election returns shall likewise be printed out and compared with the manual election returns. If the result reflected in both set of returns match, the members of the BEI are required to affix their signatures and thumbprints on such printed copy, which shall then be placed in the compartment for valid votes in the ballot box.
Thirty copies of the image of the manual election returns shall be printed out. This requirement appears to be excessive. It has been observed in the last four national and local elections where the AES was used show that most of the copies of the printouts were not collected by designated recipients. The legislators should perhaps reconsider this requirement.
The second copy of the manually prepared election returns shall be posted outside the polling place where the public could view the results.
Security is another matter of utmost consideration in any electronic system.
It is required that the laptop shall be configured solely for the purpose of recording results of the elections and to electronically transmit the digital election returns to a designated secure server. The proposed bills require that “the digital election returns shall be equipped with such encryption and programs to ensure that the technicians, or any person, cannot make alterations in any of the entries therein (the digital election returns), or the results of the counting.” If a correction on the digital election returns needs to be done as a result of a finding of discrepancy between the digital election returns and the manual election returns, the digital signatures of all members of the BEI are required to be entered.
Similarly, the recording of the digital election returns and the image of the manual election in the memory card shall also require the digital signatures of the BEI and thereafter electronically transmitted to a designated secure server.
Transparency, accuracy, integrity and security. These are perhaps the basic characteristics of a desirable hybrid election system.
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