Comelec insists it can do the job. So, let it be!

Published by rudy Date posted on April 27, 2010

SIGE NA NGA: The Commission on Elections insists that it is ready to conduct credible national elections two short weeks from now.

Having grown tired, I am tempted to throw up my hands and say, “Sige na nga, ready and able na po kayo!” Yes, let us leave the Comelec alone so it can concentrate on its difficult task of managing the country’s first semi-automatic elections.

Kibitzers, including politicians, may want to minimize their presence and lower their noise level to zero so Jose Melo & Co. can work in peace.

Step aside, fight the urge to scream, as the Comelec geniuses careen blindfolded to May 10.

If they succeed in moderating the usual cheating and killing, and averting the predicted failure of election, hooray!

But if they bungle the multibillion-peso operation, impeach the whole Comelec caboodle and burn the commissioners at the stake with those expensive voting machines chained to their legs.

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RED FLAGS: Of course, the computer wizards who understand the technical details of the automated system more than any of the poll commissioners must continue the watch and raise the red flag every time they see danger ahead.

Problem is the techies might run out of red flags since the process, as it now turns out, is shot through with defects and deficiencies, some of which may appear to have been deliberately inserted into the system.

Take the belated disabling of the capability of the computer to detect and reject dubious ballots. That safety feature was skipped after they found out — as early as last January! — that the ink used to print detection marks was of inferior quality.

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WINDOW OPENED: Now the supposedly automatic process is to be interrupted by the manual checking of the ballots by personnel who will be trained in a hurry to use gadgets reading ultra-violet marks on the ballots (like supermarket cashiers “shooting” barcodes).

This departure from the automated process opens a window for possible use of spurious ballots (as it gives poll workers a degree of discretion) and slows down the feeding of the extra-long ballots into the machine.

To skip or disable this feature, have they rewritten the program that will run the computer? Who tested and validated the program after editing? Were all affected parties apprised of the changes before and after it was rewritten?

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FOREIGN HAND: And — this is important! — what other changes had been made in the program?

Pardon my saying this, but it is possible that even Comelec commissioners themselves may not be fully aware of all the technical changes in the hardware and software, nor understand the implications.

It seems that the automated core of the election process had been entrusted by the Comelec — representing the sovereign Philippine government — to a foreign entity (Smartmatic) and to whoever had been dealing with this contractor behind the scene.

Mr. Melo and his commissioners look pitiful as they grope for solutions to the numerous problems cropping up. But since they keep insisting they can do the job, let them. Bahala na!

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POST-VOTING AUDIT: We are being assured that the Comelec is preparing to do a random manual auditing of elections results.

Henrietta de Villa, head of the poll body’s committee on random manual audit, said that an additional 3,500 public school teachers will be deployed to ensure the accuracy of the audit.

Note that they are talking of a post-voting audit, not a parallel manual counting of the votes as proposed by a number of concerned groups warning of a possible failure of the semi-automated count.

The Comelec has rejected a parallel manual canvassing, saying a random manual audit is enough.

An interesting variation is that of former president Joseph Estrada who said automated elections should be confined to urban cities while far-flung areas use manual count. He noted possible power failure disrupting automated counting of votes.

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PARALLEL COUNT: Many civic groups disagree with the Comelec that a parallel count cannot be done properly (“It’s impossible!”) on short notice, with just two weeks left to Election Day.

The Philippine Bar Association, for one, said that preparations for a manual count in all precincts could be completed in less than five days if limited to the five top elective posts (president, vice president, congressman, governor and mayor).

Some business groups further simplified it to make it easier to carry out. They proposed a parallel count only for three positions: president, vice president and mayor.

But De Villa agreed with the Comelec that a parallel manual count would defeat the purpose of automation. She pointed out that the law on poll automation does not mention anything about a parallel manual count.

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DIRTY REGISTRY: The Comelec has decided to involve five precincts per legislative district in its planned random manual audit, or a total of 1,145 clustered precincts nationwide.

Still, such manual post-voting audit is fraught with risks. For instance, if the audit gives scores substantially different from that of the automated count, what happens?

The automated tally will be controlling, but the discrepancy will raise more questions than both the Comelec and the candidates will be happy to answer.

And, mind you, we are just talking of the counting of the votes. There are equally scary problems related to the confusion over the voters’ registry containing more than 50 million names.

This early, there are indications that thousands will not be able to vote while others will be able to cast spurious votes – staining the credibility of the election results. –Federico D. Pascual Jr. (The Philippine Star)

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