The Manila Times - Who cares about supporting transparency to win?

News & Interviews
3 February 2021

By Nelson Celis | The Manila Times

Part 3

LET me just reiterate the conclusion of the Consultative Committee on Federalism (CCF), which was chaired then by former chief justice Reynato Puno, when the topic on electoral reform was discussed: “In all elections, the appreciation of ballots and counting of votes by whatever manner shall be accessible and open to the public.” They were enlightened on the presentation of the AES Watch/Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) on the utmost importance of “election transparency.” Following the CCF’s conclusion, a transparency matrix (TM) as shown in the table below was recently brainstormed by a group of election watchdogs.

Just remembered former Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) secretary Rodolfo Salalima who signed the Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) Resolution 2017-001, dated Aug. 4, 2017, recommending that the 2019 elections be composed of mixed technologies rather than merely using the optical mark reader (e.g., VCMs or PCOS machines) technology. However, the resolution never materialized. What if it was executed? Then the CAC could have considered the 13 options in the TM as the mixed technologies, including internet voting that was not considered during the deliberations.

Looking at the TM, the “Ballot” column shows the manner of voting, which could either be through “shading” or “writing.” Shading of candidates is like what we did in the past four elections while writing of candidates in the ballot could be in the form of name or assigned number or placing even a check () or equis (x) in his/her name. Writing of names of candidates is the method of what we have been doing in barangay elections.

The “Counting” column shows how the votes are counted, either by machine or manual.
And while the vote is counted, it could either be projected or encoded. The “ER Generation” column shows how the election return (ER) is produced which could be either by the machine (past automated elections) or manually done (barangay elections).

The “Transparency” column shows if the “Counting” and “ER Generation” processes follow the CCF principle that “the appreciation of ballots and counting of votes by whatever manner, shall be accessible and open to the public” (Public); else, it is not transparent (i.e., Not Public). Notice that there are options that are nearly transparent and could be tweaked a little bit to make it really transparent.

Let’s go through each option and you may also examine it yourself to figure out how the watchdogs came out with their analysis. Several questions are asked:

For Option 1, use of the vote counting machines (VCMs) utilized from previous automated elections. As experienced, after shading our votes on a ballot, we feed it to the machine. A voter’s receipt (aka voter verified paper audit trail or VVPAT) is generated to verify if it contains our votes. After which, we wait for the proclamation of winners. But did we see how the machines counted our votes in the precinct? Nope! We all entrusted the vote counting and the ER generation to the machines as the processing inside the machines had never been verified in public and therefore was secret since then.

For Option 3, same voting process as Option 1 except that the counting is done manually after precinct closing; that is, all shaded ballots are projected on a screen one by one, and votes are counted manually while encoded in the laptop computer. ER is generated manually and compared with the ER printed from the laptop computer. The printed ER is displayed outside the precinct and the soft copy of the ER is provided to the watchers of political parties, candidates, election watchdogs, and other stakeholders. Thus, Option 3 is following the CCF principle.

For Option 2, same as Option 1 except that the feeding of all the precinct ballots to the machine is done by the Board of Election Inspector (BEI) after precinct closing. The ballot is projected every time the ballot is fed and validated by another BEI. The ER is printed by the machine and validated by a BEI and the Chairman of BEI. Option 2’s transparency is in between public and not public. But this can be tweaked for full transparency by adopting Option 3’s process of providing soft copy to political parties, candidates, election watchdogs, and other stakeholders by copying the contents of the memory card of the voting machine.

Option 4: Same as Option 1 but with parallel count. The process of voting and counting are the same with Option 1 except that manual counting of the ballots is done after closing of precincts. This is somewhat transparent but could be fully transparent if the contents of the memory card would be made public. This was suggested in 2013 to verify that the machine count and manual count are the same.

To be continued …