Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The Philippines inches closer to internet voting

The Philippines’ Commission on Elections (Comelec) recently conducted test runs for internet voting as part of its mandate to enfranchise Filipino voters abroad.

In a statement, Comelec said that the test runs were part of a study on the use of internet-based technology for overseas voting. The poll body is expressly allowed by law to explore other modes or systems using automated election system.

The initiative saw thousands of overseas Filipino voters signing up to vote in simulated polls using three different platforms from competing voting companies. The tests yielded varying degrees of success in terms of participation with one provider hitting a record 64% voter turnout.

“This looks promising because traditionally we never go beyond 50 percent when it comes to voters who actually voted for overseas voting. Historically, it’s always been below 40 percent,” according to Sonia Bea Wee-Lozada, a Comelec official in charge of overseas voting.

“So, that’s how we are imagining it especially for overseas voting. Seafarers who may not be on land during the voting period, the internet voting system would be very much convenient and efficient for them,” she said.

Internet voting is expected to boost turnout as it enables voters to participate from anywhere there is a stable internet connection, a boon for overseas Filipinos who may not be able to take a day off to visit an embassy or consulate or find it expensive to travel to the nearest polling place.

The Comelec hopes that the test runs will be able to determine the operational and technical feasibility of conducting overseas voting using internet-based systems and gather data on technical specifications of the internet voting solutions currently being used in different countries.

The data gathered from these activities will inform COMELEC’s recommendatory report or policy proposal to Congress, which is expected to pass an enabling law for internet voting to be used in the midterm elections of 2025.

There are an estimated 2.8 million Filipinos working all over the world pumping back some $4 billion to their home country’s economy annually. Owing to this sector’s significant contribution to the country’s GDP, the Philippine government has accorded special status to overseas workers and has relentlessly been seeking ways to improve delivery of services to them, including making voting easier.

The success of online voting for overseas Filipinos could likewise prove to be the impetus for Comelec to consider rolling the system out to the rest of the country. Advocates are convinced that internet voting could make elections in this archipelagic country of more than 7,000 islands easier, safer, and cheaper.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Philippine poll body opens 2022 e-Voting source code for review, NGO lauds positive effect on transparency

 The Commission on Election (Comelec), the body overseeing elections in the Philippines, has recently announced that it was opening to public scrutiny the source code of the e-Voting system for use in the 2022 elections. In an advisory, the Comelec has called on stakeholders to participate in the review.

The move has drawn the praise of advocacy group Democracy Watch which has applauded the initiative of the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) as a step towards increased transparency.

In a statement, the group’s convenor Paco Pangalangan said that Democracy Watch recognizes the Comelec’s continued commitment to transparency and “lauds its latest initiative to engaging citizen groups in the Local Source Code Review of the Automated Elections System (AES).”

Democracy Watch sees the opening of the source code for review as increasing the credibility of the automated system among Filipino voters. It cites a survey it commissioned showing the automated elections have been well-received among Filipinos in the past.

Conducted by Pulse Asia after the 2019 midterm elections, the survey found that 87% of Filipinos said that they were satisfied with the automated polling system. The results also showed that 94% of respondents stated that they approved of the ease of use of VCMs and that 91% expressed that they would like to see automated voting continue in future elections.

“Building off of these findings, this Source Code Review is a crucial endeavor that can only increase transparency and reliability of AES as we approach the 2022 National and Local Elections. By reviewing the source code, participating citizens’ groups can help ensure that votes are accurately counted when Filipinos go to the polls next year,” the statement said.

The intensive software audit which will be conducted for seven months is pursuant to the nation’s Election Automation Law and has been held every election cycle since the country shifted to e-Voting in 2010. 

Among the stakeholders invited to participate in the local source review are political parties, legitimate IT groups, and civil society groups known for their election reform advocacies.

Democracy Watch, a citizen-led democratic initiative that envisions a mature, reformed and a truly democratic political system for the Philippines, has urged concerned groups to take part in the review and submit soonest their applications to be participants.

“We call on these parties to exercise their right to participate in democracy and to fulfill their responsibility in holding government institutions accountable. Let us work hand in hand with the COMELEC for a free, fair, safe, and credible automated elections in 2022,” Pangalangan said.

The Philippines is slated to hold a general election next May where more than 18,000 positions are to be filled up including those of the president, vice president, senators, and congressional representatives.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Amid intimidation, Brazilian Congress foils Bolsonaro’s plan to tinker with e-voting system


In a scathing rebuke to President Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s lower house of Congress rejected a Bolsonaro-backed bill seeking to add paper ballots to the country’s all-digital election system.

The defiant vote took place amid saber-rattling by the Brazilian military, which paraded tanks in the streets of the capital city of Brasilia, reminiscent of the country’s military dictatorship from 1964-1985.

Senator Simone Tebet decried the show of force, saying that “tanks in the street, precisely on the day of the vote on the paper ballot amendment, is real, clear and unconstitutional intimidation.”

The proposed amendment died after failing to muster the 308 votes needed to pass, getting only 229 yes votes and 218 no votes.

Earlier, Bolsonaro launched a blistering attack on the voting system, calling it susceptible to fraud, without citing evidence. He warned that elections will not be held next year “if they are not clean and democratic.”

Brazil’s electronic voting system has been in use by the country in all elections, plebiscites, and referendums since 2006, including the 2016 polls which swept Bolsonaro into power.

The populist president is demanding for the adoption of a hybrid system using printed ballots that can be counted in case of disputes. Critics, however, fear that this regression to a manual system would undermine the credibility of the existing all-electronic system.

Critics are wary of Bolsonaro’s motives, suspecting that the sweeping and unsubstantiated claims are laying the grounds for claims of fraud in case the incumbent loses. The 66-year-old president’s popularity is at a record low and is in danger of losing to left leaning Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is topping the surveys.

Observers are finding similarities between Bolsonaro’s move to that of former US President Donald Trump, who months before the elections in November 2020 had claimed in speeches, tweets, and interviews that he would be cheated, in case he lost.

The Brazilian Congress’ vote comes on the heels of a strongly-worded statement issued by a group of current and former judges warning of chaos if Brazil goes back to its manual counting of 150 million printed ballots.

Bolsonaro has been drawing flak for his anemic pandemic response which has resulted in Brazil registering the second-highest number of deaths in the world.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Philippine poll watchdog greenlights security of e-voting system ahead of elections


An influential election watchdog group in the Philippines has assured voters of the security of the country’s automated elections system, ahead of the May 2022 elections.

“We have come a long way in terms of technological advancements in the way we vote. Our automated system is a big improvement over the old manual system,” said noted IT-professional Henry Aguda, a trustee of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), in an online voter education seminar.

PPCRV is a church-based citizen’s group which has been keeping watch over Philippine elections for three decades. It has over 500,000 volunteers all over the country.

PPCRV is a church-based citizen’s group which has been keeping watch over Philippine elections for three decades. It has over 500,000 volunteers all over the country. The Philippines started automating their elections in 2010 and since them the PPCRV has validated all election results.

Responding to questions during the webinar, Aguda said that the vote counting machine (VCM) lessens the possibility of electoral fraud. “We have experts who have seen how the source code is secure and how encryptions have been done,” he said.

Aguda further cited that VCMs run software that has been “meticulously developed for the purpose of counting votes.” He also cited the machine’s capability to detect duplicate or fake ballots, flag ballots intended for other machines, as well as other components of security such as the physical i-button keys held by poll workers.

“Our machines are very secure,” Aguda said, adding that “I cannot imagine somebody successfully rigging an election through the machines.”

Dr. William Yu, who is also an IT-professional and a trustee of the poll watchdog group reminded voters that the automated election system is a system. “It is important to recognize that this is a system. The VCM is secure but there are other things — the process, the i-buttons keys that are also part of the overall security,” he said.

“If you want to break the system you have to break all of those. And it’s not just the machine, you will also have to compromise all the people on the site, the volunteers,” he said.

Yu also dismissed the idea of a rouge vote counting machine being used to cheat.

“In case there is a shadow VCM or ghost VCM that is in the system, we should be able to track it down with our parallel count process. Not only are there controls within the system itself, but there are also controls that we as poll watchers are able to do,” Yu said.

As a way to further increase transparency of the system, Yu is advocating to increase the number of precincts that are audited in every Philippine election. The post-election audit performed is known as the random manual audit (RMA). “It always helps to have more checks and balances,” he said.

As a way to further increase transparency of the system, Yu is advocating to increase the number of precincts to be subjected to the random manual audit (RMA). “It always helps to have more checks and balances,” he said.

The RMA shows an increasing match between the electronic count and the manual count since 2010 when the Philippines started automating its elections. In 2010 it was 99.580%, 2013 -99.9474%, 2016 - 99.9027%, and 2019 - 99.9953%.