Friday, March 6, 2009

Why not an Open Election System (OES)?


Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
March 6, 2009


The Optical Mark Reader (OMR) that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) will use for the automated elections system (AES) in the May 2010 polls has not been fully proven as tamper- and fraud-free, will encourage wholesale cheating, and will not ensure a transparent and open election system.

Moreover, it is doubtful whether Comelec will be ready for the full automation of the elections given the time constraints based on its owncalendar.

At a time when many Filipino voters are losing trust in the country’selectoral process, what we need in order to bring trust and credibility to this political exercise is a transparent and open election system, where people will have access to election information.

It is in this regard that we call on the Comelec to look into the Open Election System (OES) once more because, among other advantages, its component of installing a public website where election data will be posted and is accessible for publicviewing will ensure a transparent and open election.

Aside from being cheaper (P4 billion) than the OMR, OES has the technological potential to deliver election results in 3-5 days.

On the other hand, we are concerned that the use of the OMR will onlybring wholesale high-tech cheating and will not guarantee a fraud- or tamper-free election based on multifold studies and reports with regard toits performance in the August 2008 ARMM elections – where at most, more than 20 problems and deficiencies were observed - as well as in the United States and other countries where OMR was used in elections.

In fact, theAssociation for Computing Machinery (ACM) – the largest educational andscientific computing society in the U.S. - adopted a resolution in 2004 calling for a “voter-verifiable audit trail” after finding election machines being “inherently subject to programming error, equipment malfunction, and malicious tampering.”

Why is it that the Comelec has not been transparent in revealing the full report of its advisory council on the August 2008 ARMM automated electionswhere, aside from the machine errors and deficiencies, it admitted thatthe poll body has inadequate IT apparatus to meet the complex requirementsof AES?

The OES, on the other hand, is not only a viable technology but it also meets the objectives for a transparent and credible election as mandatedby RA 9369.

As an automation system, the OES involves the manual counting of votes at the precinct but uses automation through the encoding of election returns followed by the electronic posting of the ERs, SOVs, COCs, and other election data – inclusive of the municipal/city tonational levels - to a public web that is accessible to the people.

While the OMR requires the tedious and costly process of educating andtraining not only election inspectors but also voters, the OES will not.

Above all, this open and transparent technology addresses the objective of RA 9369 which is to adopt and use “the most suitable technology ofdemonstrated capability taking into account the situation prevailing inthe area and the funds available for the purpose.” (Section 1) Given the other constraints to a fully-automated election system, including thelow-tech literacy of many election inspectors and tens and millions ofvoters, as well as the time constraints of the Comelec the OES is apractical remedy of introducing gradual high-tech automation while makingthe 2010 elections transparent and credible.

Among other activities, the calendared customization of systems is setuntil November 2009, training for Comelec technical personnel in December2009- February 2010, and public demonstrations in February to May 2010 – a tight schedule that provides only two-three months for education and training of the public on full high-tech election system, a first in thecountry’s fraud-ridden electoral history.

With OES, however, sufficient time is allowed to ensure people participation under a gradual introduction of full automated electionsgiven the stringent requirements to prepare the public and all otherstakeholders including the media, NGOs and other advocates for the conductof open, transparent, and credible elections.

While we note that no automation system will absolutely guarantee a fraud-and tamper-free election, the OES offers the potential of greatertransparency while complying with the rights of the voters to have accessto public information such as, in this particular case, election results.

Aside from the ERs, access to election results will allow all interestedparties as well as the voters to verify the election results and undertakenecessary measures to protect their right to vote and that of thecandidates and political parties. To us this is more important. We hearvoices from concerned individuals and organizations citing moretransparent technology like the OES as the mechanism that may help bring credibility and trust to the country’s electoral process.

For reference:

Prof. Bobby Tuazon
Director, Policy StudyCenPEG (
Tel/Fax 9299526
Mobile Phone 0915-6418055;
Office address: 3/F CSWCD Bldg., UP Diliman, Quezon City 1101

The Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) is an independent policy institute engaged in the study and analysis of governance, elections and political parties, foreign policy, and other issues. Its studies, training and education modules use multi-disciplinary perspectives and the expertise of mostly academe-based Fellows and the results are used for public and media advocacy as well as publication. Its recent publications are the bestseller Corruptionary and The Moro Reader.


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