Last of 2 parts

THERE are examples of countries that automated their elections, then after a few years, reverted to the manual system:

In Germany, political scientist Joachim Wiesner and son, Ulrich Wiesner, complained that push-button voting was not transparent because the voter could not see what actually happened to his vote inside the computer and was required to place "blind faith" in the technology. In addition, the two plaintiffs argued that the results were open to manipulation. The German Supreme Court eventually ruled the voting machines unconstitutional.

I understand that it was also in Germany that the slogan, "Secret voting, public counting" originated.

Ireland bought voting machines from the Dutch company Nedap for about 40 million euros. The machines were used on a "pilot" basis in three constituencies for the 2002 Irish general election and a referendum on the Treaty of Nice. On April 23, 2009, the Minister for the Environment John Gormley announced that the electronic voting system was to be scrapped in favor of a yet undetermined method because of cost and the public's dissatisfaction with the current system.

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In The Netherlands in 2008, e-voting was suspended after 20 years of use when activists showed that the systems could, under certain circumstances, endanger the secrecy of the vote. An official commission found that the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, which was responsible for organizing elections, lacked in-house expertise, causing too much dependence on vendors and certification agencies. Voters had to switch back to pen and paper.

I was told that there were also some 20 to 30 states in the United States that had the same experience of automating elections then reverting to the manual system.

The hybrid system — the better alternative

So now, we come to a third alternative — the combination of the manual and the automated systems, ergo, the hybrid system. Precinct-counting is manual, transmission of the results is electronic, and the three-level canvassing is automated. To facilitate the multi-copy printing of the election returns, and their electronic transmission to the canvassing points, a laptop can be used, in parallel with the manual counting, or, to encode the counting results, at the end. Precinct-counting will only take 5 to 12 hours longer, approximately — compared to using VCMs; not much really, especially considering that this is out of a throughput time of about a week.

Precinct-counting duration can, however, be shortened by implementing system improvements: for example, coding of candidate names, as is done in some Asian countries, reducing the number of voters per precinct by un-clustering them back to the original 250 maximum (from the current 600-1,000), which will understandably result in an increase in the number of precincts (they were clustered before, only because it would have been too expensive to equip about 300,000 precincts with VCMs).

By the simple shift to the hybrid system (i.e., no VCM), the following list of good points can be gained:

Some safeguards in the current system can be eliminated:

– No need for the months-long VCM source code review (review only the canvassing software)

– No need for the final testing and sealing (FTS) of the VCM at each and every precinct

– No need to generate the VCM hash code in every precinct for comparison with the established.

VCM hash code

- All steps of the election process are transparent to the voting public; precinct-tallying is done under the watchful eyes of the voters

– Accuracy of the counting is very high; after all, manual counts are the basis of accuracy

– Very minimal Electoral Board (formerly, BEI) training and no voter training necessary

– Vulnerability to cheating is very low; only retail cheating, if at all

– Software will use Open Source, which can be reviewed by anybody interested

– Since only laptops and servers will be used, they can even be purchased in any big city; therefore less logistics concerns; business opportunities are spread wider

– No warehousing and equipment maintenance necessary (hundreds of million pesos worth) as all the machines can be sold to private schools and/or donated to public schools after each election; a new set can be purchased every three years

– Cost is at most half of that of the VCMs employed at present by the Comelec

– No need for the random manual audit (RMA), since all votes will be counted manually, anyway

– Will put an end to the perennial question asked about our automated elections — can we trust the results? — since precinct-counting is witnessed by the voters.

Bad point: The teachers (Electoral Board) will have to stay a few hours longer because of the manual counting. This inconvenience can, however, be made acceptable by increasing their allowances correspondingly. Better for the budget to go to the teachers than to the foreign VCM supplier. (The savings in not buying/renting the VCMs and purchasing laptops instead, should be more than enough to cover this allowance increase.)

The hybrid system will not require a new law; just a Comelec resolution to adopt it. There should, however, be continuing efforts to have a law enacted, which, at present, since there are already proposed bills on this in both Houses of Congress, would simply mean lobbying for their passage. A law would compel the Comelec to put an end to the use of the non-transparent Smartmatic system for the country's elections and ensure that it is replaced by the better, much more transparent one — the hybrid election system.

Enactment of the law should be fairly easy as there appears to be no opposition to it. Even President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his sister, Sen. Imee Marcos, have expressed their support for it as early as 2016.

We still have almost three years before the 2025 elections — certainly more than enough time to prepare for it. But let's start now, so there's time to streamline the whole process. And the Comelec can't say, "No more time!"