Our initial confidence in the Automated Election System (AES) has been shaken. Some say the AES may be worse than our fully manual voting system because of the easy way it can be rigged. With only four weeks to go before elections, many are now desperately looking for a solution.
Because they represented all the agricultural sub-sectors, which compose 40 percent of the voting population, the Alyansa Agrikultura was once again invited to the March 25 hearing of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) on Automated Elections.
Having participated in three prior hearings, the Alyansa leaders eagerly anticipated this hearing. This is because Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr., who co-chairs the JCOC with Sen. Francis Escudero, had requested Comelec Chair Jose Melo to respond to the Alyansa’s March 4 letter in a subsequent hearing.
In this letter, the Alyansa cited the necessity of having the legally required audit procedure before, rather than after, the proclamation. It also recommended an audit procedure formulated with the input of Mahar Mangahas, head of the Social Weather Stations, and Baltazar Endriga, founder of SGV’s Computer Audit Division.
Unfortunately, the JCOC hearing was canceled and Comelec has not yet responded to the Alyansa proposal. What is worse is that Comelec still maintains its position that the audit should be done after proclamation. The farmers ask, “Ano pa ang gagawin sa damo kung patay na ang kabayo?” (“What will you do with the grass if the horse is already dead?”) The Comelec answers, “Use this as a basis for filing a protest.”
We all know this takes years to resolve. The Comelec response makes a mockery of the intended use of the audit.
Serendipitously, the Comelec’s delayed response to the Alyansa audit proposal has given a group of highly respected Information Technology (IT) professionals the opportunity to come up with a solution that addresses many of the AES problems.
Gus Lagman, TransparentElections lead convenor and former Information Technology Association of the Philippines president, said, “We propose an industry practice which all new computer programs must undergo to help ensure their usefulness: a parallel run.”
Initially, to save time, Lagman had proposed a manual count in every precinct for only two positions: the president and the vice president. An Alyansa leader suggested that the additional position of mayor be included.
Lagman quickly accepted this and said, “This way, in areas where the interest in the national candidates is lacking, the supporters of the mayoral candidates will monitor closely the manual counting because their candidates’ futures are at stake.”
A Precinct Computer Optical Scan or PCOS machine has an average of 600 voters. The new “parallel run” proposal is that, after the voting closes, the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) does what it has been doing all these past years: manually count the votes; but this time, only for president, vice president, and mayor. This takes an average of three hours, certainly a small price to pay for helping ensure an honest count.
If the manual count is approximately the same as the computer count, it can be assumed that the computer was not rigged. The computer count for all the candidates can then be sent immediately for proclamation purposes.
But in cases (we hope there will be few) where the computer count is very different from the manual count, which has been properly monitored by several parties at the precinct level, suspicions of rigging may be valid. A complete manual count must then be done for all positions. The result of this manual count, not the defective computer count, will subsequently be transmitted as the official count for proclamation purposes.
This may take an additional four days: two days for the complete manual count and two days for transmission to the municipalities. But even then, only for these cases, the 42 days it takes for the old system of voting will still significantly be decreased to 7 days.
This is because the transmission from local to national will continue to be done electronically using the AES in a day or two, instead of the former manually transmitted time of 40 days.
As Philippine Software Industry Association President, Ma. Cristina Coronel, and Automated Election System (AES) Watch spokesperson Angel Averia argue, a parallel run is an accepted required industry practice for all new computer programs. Why not do this for the new AES program that will impact our democracy and possibly change our lives?
If the JCOC and the Comelec support this parallel count proposal, it will be an effective deterrent to rigging the elections. This is because the parallel count will expose any such possible rigging in every single precinct.
With its implementation, the farmers, who constitute the largest voting sector in the country, will again be confident that their votes will be accurately counted in the increasingly controversial elections, and consequently their hope for a better life fulfilled.
The author is chair of Agriwatch, former secretary for presidential flagship programs and projects, and former undersecretary for Agriculture, and Trade and Industry. For inquiries and suggestions, email firstname.lastname@example.org or telefax (02) 8522112.