Case Study for 2010 Automated Election in the Phil.

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CONTEXT

Election for the new leaders serves a major role in every history of a country. The future of each country depends on how they lead the nation. The elected president will become the 15th President of the Philippines, succeeding President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is barred from seeking re-election due to term restrictions. The successor of the Vice-President Noli de Castro will be the 15th Vice President of the Philippines. The legislators elected in the 2010 elections will join the senators of the 2007 elections and will comprise the 15th Congress of the Philippines. In the past, Philippine elections have frequently been marred by allegations of widespread cheating and other electoral malpractice. The most famous method of cheating is called dagdag/bawas (add-subtract), when votes are subtracted from the opposition candidate and added to a favored candidate, and vice versa. Concerns over election credibility have been worse by the typically long period between voting and the official announcement of results. Delays were caused in part by an outdated polling procedure that required voters to remember candidate names and write them on a ballot paper, leaving polling officials to understand the handwriting of all voters, including some less than fully literate, all the while dealing with complaints from watchful party officials who were “certain” that the illegible scrawl was a vote for their candidate.

Increasing public frustration prompted Philippine government to propose in the mid-1990s that the polling process must be automated to decrease cheating and simplify polling and vote-counting. Some supported this because they believed automation would serve as an effective check for cheating, while others saw modernization as a means to finally do away with the infamous write-in ballot process. After several false starts, automated elections were finally tested in the 2008 Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) elections. The tests were generally viewed as successful (although some disputed that conclusion), and the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) went ahead with plans for an automated May 10, 2010 National Elections. But as the Philippines finally seem poised to complete its 15-year automation odyssey, doubts are still being raised.

A widely-respected international risk assessment firm published a highly critical report, which builds on concerns previously expressed by local and international election watchdogs and local IT associations, predicts a high probability of “failure of elections” due to “automation uncertainties.” The paper, distributed to top embassy officials, watchdogs, and political parties, further concludes that “the bid to automate the 2010 elections increases the pressure significantly and adds strain to a country that has historically experienced elections mismanagement, corruption and fraud.”

STRATEGIES DESCRIBED

* What does “automation” actually mean in the Philippine elections context? Voters will receive a pre-printed ballot and will shade an oval next to each candidate they choose. The voter will then feed the ballot into a Precinct Count Optical Scanner (PCOS) located above the ballot box. As the ballot passes through the scanner into the box, the PCOS will save the marks in its internal memory. This is not actually new technology; the shading and scanning process has been used by educators for standardized tests since the 1960s. And it is not truly automated voting, since voters still mark their choices by hand on a paper ballot, rather than pushing a button or tapping a computer screen.

* Where exactly then, is the automation?
The clue is in the name of the machine that scans the ballots: Precinct Count. During the polling process the PCOS stores the votes, and at the end of Election Day, automatically adds the votes, then prints out a paper form listing the totals for each candidate, and automatically transmits those totals through an internal cell phone...
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