Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)

Poll automation a sinking ship; time to use a hybrid system

The policy think tank Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) today challenged Congress, Comelec and other agencies to bring to bear the proposed Hybrid Election System (HES) in place of the deeply-flawed Automated Election System (AES). The conduct of the automated system during the May 9 elections – marked among others by malfunctioning vote-counting machines (VCMs), delayed transmissions, reports of voter disenfranchisement, and printing of millions of ballots without public monitor raised many questions whether the election outcome was accurate and can be trusted, CenPEG said.

These system failures are the result of breakdowns and missteps accumulated in previous automated elections since 2010. These have included, said CenPEG Fellow Prof. Nelson J. Celis, the long absence of Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) since 1997 for the implementation and enforcement of the election law RA 9369. Second, is the failure of the technical evaluation committee (TEC) to certify through an established international certification entity (i.e., Pro V&V), stating that the AES, including its hardware and software components, is in order. Third, is the absence of general instructions (GIs) concerning the operations of the central, transparency and backup servers and transmission router.

Fourth, is the chronic absence of digital signatures. Comelec never complied with this legal requirement by not providing full digital signing facilities for all the three members of the board of election inspectors (BEIs). A frequent violation, Celis said, is the non-usage of write-once-read-many (WORM) technology for primary SD cards of VCMs. The use of WORM is critical in preventing the alteration of the contents of the SD card when a VCM conks out.

The other so-called safeguards in the existing Automated Election Law, notably the Random Manual Audit (RAM), the Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT), and the count review done by the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) all fall short of ensuring the verifiability of election results which can only be guaranteed by the manual count of the paper ballots in each clustered precinct to be observed by representatives from the political parties and concerned citizens’ groups. For instance, the RAM is a case of a “too little, too late” auditing protocol and the VVPAT only confirms the veracity of a voter’s preferences but does not figure in verifying the actual total precinct count. The PPCRV counting review process compares the machine-generated precinct election returns with the printed, canvassed election returns it receives but does not verify the accuracy and authenticity of the precinct machine counts.

Comelec’s AES – outsourced from foreign company Smartmatic since 2010 – is now a sinking ship that should be replaced immediately by a more reliable election system.
CenPEG Board chair, Dr. Temario Rivera, said "Our contentious experience with the automated system of elections under the Comelec and Smartmatic in various administrations since 2010 compels us to prepare for a democratic, transparent, and verifiable alternative system." Since 2010 CenPEG, along with the poll watchdog AES Watch and other citizens election watchgroups, has called for a system that ensures secret voting and public counting with the use of automation only for transmission and canvassing of the votes. The concept has since been called the Hybrid Election System (HES).

Several bills have been filed in the 18th Congress adopting the provisions of the HES with variations including a proposal to livestream the vote count which can be used as evidence in an electoral protest.

The use of an alternative, verifiable and accurate election system should be done alongside reforms to make the electoral process fair, clean and competitive, CenPEG’s Rivera said. Measures should be adopted to minimize if not eliminate voters’ vulnerability to all kinds of intimidation including vote buying and disinformation; enforcement of the constitutional provision on the banning of political dynasties; developing a genuine political party system; and ensuring the independence and non-partisanship of the Comelec. Although painful and laborious, these significant reforms should be done now, he added.


Bobby M. Tuazon

CenPEG, founded in 2004, is a policy think tank led by academics, political analysts and other experts on a broad range of fields and issues. A resource group in Congress, it has conducted several studies on electoral reform, Party-list system, as well as on governance, foreign policy, and security matters.


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