News: Comelec rules out parallel manual count

abs-cbnNEWS.com: MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections on Wednesday ruled out a parallel manual count for national positions amid concerns by a group of IT experts that poll results could be rigged.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said a random manual audit will be made after a proclamation is made to check if the figures match. Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal, for his part, said the poll body is ready to sit down with IT experts who have concerns about the automated polls.

Jimenez also appealed to critics to stop scaring the public with failure of election scenarios. He warned those undermining the credibility of the elections could face an election offense.

The president of the Philippine Software Industry Association on Wednesday urged Comelec to implement a select parallel manual count of the May 10 elections to ensure the credibility of the country’s first nationwide automated polls.

In an interview on radio dzMM, PSIA president Maria Cristina Coronel said various IT groups are calling for a simplified parallel count that would only involve counting the votes for the president, vice president and mayor.

Under the proposal, members of the boards of election inspectors (BEIs) would do a manual count of the votes for the three positions and compare it with the results of the counting of the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines.

Coronel said BEIs could do the manual count for about 3 hours after polling booths close on election day. “If they do not match, the proposal is to count all the votes in the entire precinct,” she said.

Coronel said IT professionals have various concerns about the credibility of the country’s first ever nationwide automated election. These include the Commission on Elections’ failure to conduct an end-to-end simulation and full test of the automated election system.

“Typically, when we implement a system, we normally do a pilot run and a parallel run just to make sure that the system is working well and the results are credible,” she said.

She added: “Nababagabag o nababahala is the right term because we know that Comelec is not yet ready based on the things that we are seeing right now. So we cannot just sit down and wait. You are like a doctor that sees a disease but you are not doing anything to bring a cure. I guess that’s a sin of omission on our end. At this point, I think we need to act.”

Last Sunday, at least two of 20 PCOS machines at voting precincts in Hong Kong stalled and did not accept filled-up ballots that were being inserted by overseas Filipino voters. Officials of Comelec and poll machine supplier Smartmatic-TIM said the machines stalled temporarily due to condensation. They said the machines worked perfectly after an hour.

Smartmatic Asia-Pacific president Cesar Flores earlier said the failure of a few machines on the May 10 elections is expected and should not be taken to mean a failure of the automation process. He said the boards of election inspectors could use the backup machines or even allow the voters to vote manually and then count the ballots at the nearest precinct.

Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr., co-chair of the joint congressional committee on the automated elections, said the absentee voting process in Hong Kong proceeded as planned despite the temporary glitches.

“[The machines] didn’t malfunction, it just needed to dry out. The weather was nice, the temperature was muggy and wet but cool. [That problem] will be absent here in the Philippines because it is too dry,” he said.

He said two absentee voters actually spoiled their ballots during the voting. He said one voter deliberately crumpled the ballot to see if the machine would reject it while the other accidentally smudged her ballot due to pen stains.

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