Inquirer.net : Miscounted votes destroy democracy

News & Interviews
7 August 2021

By Ernesto M. Ordoñez | Inquirer.net

This was given emphasis through a five-day hunger strike in 2004 on the street where the Commission on Elections (Comelec) held office. For disclosure purposes, I joined this strike. It had participants from Alyansa Agrikultura (farmers and fisherfolk), Lakas Diwa (urban poor) and Honest and Peaceful Elections or HOPE (a Church laity organization). All had high stakes in ensuring an accurate electoral count. This was all to no avail. The same problem of no vote counting transparency still exists today, 17 years later.The problem

There is no way to check if the votes given at the precinct level are counted accurately. One cannot even complain about being cheated unless subsequent manual counting is done. Once the voter casts his vote, automation with no transparency sets in. We are at the mercy of machines. There is an easy solution, but it needs political will. It is the same additional manual counting proposed in 2004. The automated system will still be used, but there will be the additional manual counting at the precinct for all to see. This will take an additional five to 12 hours but the extra time spent will be well worth the benefit of true democracy.

This is how it works. When the polls close, the ballots are opened, manually counted, and posted for all to see. The automated system then electronically transmits the transparent vote count.This was explained on Aug. 1 at the “Archer Talks” public webinar series organized by De La Salle 1965 High School Class and the 1970 College Class (0915-8804492). According to former Agrarian Reform Secretary Philip Ella Juico, this series features critical national issues in preparation for next year’s elections.

Augusto Lagman (0917-8178477) was well qualified to speak on this proposed electoral procedure. He is a former Comelec Commissioner, president of the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections, and president of the Southeast Asia Regional Computer Confederation with more than 200,000 IT and technology professionals across Asia.

Lagman recommended the use of the Automated Election System with Enhanced Transparency and Accuracy. The only additional step to the automated system is the manual counting done at the precinct level before the vote count transmission. This can be done on an an electronic screen and transmitted through a web link simultaneously throughout the country for maximum transparency.

This has several advantages. First, all steps in the process are transparent to the voting public. Today, the first step of ensuring that the votes at the precinct are communicated accurately is not transparent. At the very start, cheating can already take place. Second, accuracy is high because of the transparent counting.

Third, the open source software can be reviewed by anyone interested. Fourth, since only PCs and servers are used, they can be purchased in any big city. Warehousing is not needed because the machines can be donated to schools after each election. Fifth, there will be no ballot snatching since the results are transmitted electronically.

Abandonment
Other countries have abandoned e-voting without the transparent manual counting. In Germany, Joachim Weisner filed a case arguing that voting was not transparent. The voter could not see what actually happened to his vote inside the computer. The result was therefore open to manipulation. The German Supreme Court ruled this voting procedure unconstitutional.

In 2009, Ireland scrapped the electronic voting due to the public’s dissatisfaction with the system. In 2008, Netherlands suspended election voting because it endangered the votes with too much dependence on vendors and certification agencies.

Lagman cited the following reasons why several governments abandoned this procedure: “Not transparent; nobody witnesses the counting; very vulnerable to tampering by an insider; software could have “bugs” and/or malware; and voters are left with no choice but to trust the service provider and the implementers.”

Especially because of our agriculture crisis, the same farmers and fisherfolk who joined the 2004 hunger strike desperately want that manual counting be added to the automated system this time. Otherwise, unscrupulous officials who cheated them before will continue to make their lives miserable. Our agriculture stakeholders will not get the the benefits of a better life. This can be done through a functioning democracy and an accurate electoral count is their only hope.

The author is Agriwatch chair, former Secretary of Presidential programs and projects and former undersecretary of DA and DTI. Contact is [email protected]