The Manila Times – Open election data project

By Lito Averia | The Manila Times

ORGANIZED in 1983, the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) is the first election-monitoring body in the world and, at the outset, espoused the transparency of election results. It has since expanded its monitoring and observation activities to cover pre-election, election day and post-election periods. The monitoring and observation activities include procurement, voter registration, voter education, filing of certificates of candidacy, preparation for elections, election day operations, among others. Namfrel’s findings and observations are published and made available to anyone interested.

Namfrel may have unwittingly set a building block for what is referred to today as “open data” or, more specifically, “open election data.”

Internet resources provide the following definition, or similar to it: “Open data is data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone — subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and share alike.”

Some of the attributes of “open data” are:

— Available and accessible – data must be available as a whole, in a convenient and modifiable form.

— Reuse and redistribution — interested parties may reuse the data for their own analysis and redistribution, including mixing it with other datasets.

— Universal participation — any interested party is allowed to access, use, reuse, and redistribute the data

Given the varying technologies used to access the internet, interoperability is a key attribute of “open data.”

The Philippine government has its own open data initiative which can be found in https://data.gov.ph and adopts the same definition of “open data.” Open Data Philippines (ODPH) acts as the intermediary between the government of the Philippines and the public when it comes to government data. It makes government data more accessible, searchable and understandable.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has engaged in automation projects, including the automation of voter registration and, as provided for in Republic Act 8436 as amended by Republic Act 9369, or the Automated Election Law, has automated our elections on a nationwide scale since 2010. Automated elections generate large amounts of data beyond election results and election statistics. The data generated includes election transmission-related data as the election returns are transmitted from the clustered precincts to the designated targets, including the city or municipal canvassing and consolidation system (CCS), the transparency server, and the Comelec’s central server. The consolidated results are then transmitted to the designated provincial CCS, then to the national CCS, and also the Comelec’s central server. The machines used — the vote counting machines, transmission servers, and canvassing and consolidation servers — record machine activities in what is referred to as the “system log” which would indicate to a knowledgeable user how the machines performed. The generated data recording the movement of results and machine performance would certainly be of interest to the public.

The data captured (votes) and generated (election returns, certificates of canvass and statement of votes at various levels, transmission-related data, system logs) by the automated election system, Comelec-generated data (project of precincts, list of voters, list of election workers both the board of election inspectors and board of canvassers, and others), Comelec-collected data (list of candidates per contests per jurisdiction, statement of contribution and expenditures, among others) are various data sets that are of interest to the public and should be made available, accessible, and open in machine-readable format.

Thus, the concept of “open election data” as may be applied in Philippine elections. The Comelec may seize the opportunity to be more transparent by making the various election datasets publicly available and accessible.

The data should be:
— Timely — Data provided in a timely manner will prove to be informative and instructive. Timely data may aid in the voters’ decision-making.

— Granular — Data provided should as detailed as possible to remove ambiguities.

— Available for free on the internet — Data may be hosted in a platform that is freely available and accessible.

— Complete — Data that is complete and made available as a whole is open data. Releasing a complete dataset is a clear act of transparency.

— Analyzable – The data must be in a format that is machine-readable and may be processed in a manner that allows it to be analyzed.

— Non-proprietary – The data may be used and re-used freely, without restrictions, monetary or otherwise.

— Non-discriminatory – The data must be made available to any individual or organization without need of registration in order to access or use/re-use the data.

— License-free – The data must be made available for use, re-use, or redistribution without barriers.

— Permanently available – The data shall be made available in a “stable online location” in perpetuity.

Namfrel has identified “Open Election Data” as a project of importance and significance. It is offering to the Comelec a platform that meets the principles “open data.”

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Meantime, Comelec disclosed at a hearing conducted by the joint congressional oversight committee on the automated election system last February the use of a fourth automated election system component — the election results transmission system (ERTS). The source code of the ERTS programs have also been presented to the local source code reviewers. The ERTS is an infrastructure where all election results transmissions converge, receiving transmissions from the various machines and routing the election results to target machines. It consists of several servers and network components.

To be pilot-tested in the coming elections is the voter registration verification system. Some 32,000 voter registration verification machines will be deployed and used in about a third of the total number of clustered precincts.

More on these two items in later articles.

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