Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Anti-technology groups endangering future of elections in the Philippines

In May 2022, voters in Philippines will go to the polls to elect their new president and other national and local officials.  For this general election, the country is set to use for a fifth time its automated election system, which it has adopted with great success since 2010. 

Popular opinion is that automation has resulted in a pronounced improvement in the credibility of elections, which had historically been marred by controversies due to the slow manual count and the susceptibility of the manual system to manipulation. In a 2019 survey, leading pollster Pulse Asia found out that 84% of Filipinos trusted election results and an overwhelming 91% wanted automated voting in future elections

But despite the success of poll automation, some small yet loud anti-technology groups have somehow influenced lawmakers to file bills seeking to junk the system in favor of a so-called hybrid method, which purportedly blends manual and automated modes of voting.  

Election experts have been quick to warn that hybrid is just manual elections couched in technology speak, and represents  a significant downgrade that could set off a dangerous backslide toward the dark ages of  the flawed manual elections.

Election watchdog Democracy Watch said in statement that “adopting a hybrid vote counting system in 2022 is a step back for the Philippines in its journey towards transparent and credible elections.


During an end-to-end demonstration at a school in Cavite, a province just south of the capital Manila, the system proved unreliable and inefficient. Witnesses were one in observing that moving back to manual counting, as implied under the hybrid system, would be a significant setback.


After the test, lawmaker Rep. Edgar Erice stated “I don’t think [hybrid system] feasible. The test run was not successful. I maintain that the law requires automation both in the precinct voting and transmission.”

Fredenil Castro, Capiz Representative and then House electoral reforms committee chair, stated that the hybrid system test was "miserably [unsuccessful] to even closely match the advantages of a fully-automated election."

As the elections inch closer, all eyes are on the Philippine legislature as it debates the hybrid bill. Will it pass a law supplanting automated polls in favor of the untried hybrid system thereby risking a regression to the benighted days of manual? Or will it uphold the successes of the past four elections and retain the automated election system to ensure that the 2022 polls are marked with transparency and credibility?

The future of Philippine democracy may very well be hinged on this.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

After a decade of automated polls, the Philippines stand as a positive reference

Elections in the Philippine have been among the most hotly contested in the world, with election protests being a fixture in the arsenal of many candidates unwilling to accept defeat. But since 2010, when the country adopted an automated elections system, it has seen a dramatic improvement in how elections are run. Key metrics such as accuracy in the vote count, transparency measures put in place and trust in results have steadily improved while the number of electoral protests filed has noticeably been in steep decline.

A recent assessment by the Manila-based think tank Stratbase ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies, found the 2019  Philippine midterm elections to be “well-run” for achieving positive marks on key metrics such as accuracy, credibility, transparency, voter satisfaction, and number of electoral protests filed.

According to the paper authored by political scientists Ador R. Torneo and Topin S. Ruiz, the accuracy of the polls was verified by the results of the random manual audit (RMA) which reached a “record-high” of 99.99% in 2019, which is up from 99.90 % in 2016, 99.7% in 2013, and 99.6% in 2010.

The uptrend in the RMA results seems to be inversely correlated with the downtrend in the number of protest cases being filed. According to the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET), the body tasked to decide on protests filed for congressional posts, there were 49 cases filed in 2010, 37 in 2013, 28 in 2016, and 21 in 2019. None of these cases have resulted in reversals.

Other election protests filed before the country’s Commission on Elections (Comelec) is also decreasing.  Data from the poll body shows that 49 cases were filed in 2010, 32 cases in 2013, and 22 in 2010.

Credibility was measured in the study in terms of public perception, saying that “the people’s opinions and trust of the system and the election results are an indicator of credibility.”

“In Pulse Asia’s survey, 89% of Filipinos prefer the automated system, a comparable yet increasing trend since the first automated elections in 2010,” the paper said.

Transparency was also a hallmark of the 2019 polls,  as the study found the electorate to have had access to processes and information.

“For the 2019 mid-term elections, COMELEC (Commission on Elections) provided at least four means for the public to gain a good understanding of the how the system works. These included mock elections, source code review, public ballot printing system, and the results website.”

Voter confidence and satisfaction for the 2019 mid-terms elections was also notable, the paper said, with 83% of Filipinos were satisfied with the conduct of the elections.

“This is relatively consistent with all other elections under the AES. People’s opinions surveys resulted in 84% believing that the election results in 2019 were credible. This is a significant jump from 74% in 2016,” the paper said.

The full paper can be downloaded here.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Los Angeles County debuts its new voting system with good grade

Los Angeles County launched a new voting system during the primaries held yesterday in California. Overall, the debut of this much anticipated new system was successful. 

The vast majority of voters decided to use the new Vote Centers to cast their ballot in person. As of March 5, the county website shows a 60% of the ballots were cast using the Ballot Marking Devices deployed across the country. The remaining 40% voted by mail. 

The debut was not perfect. “There is no question that many voters faced long wait times and challenges in voting in Los Angeles County on Tuesday,” said Dean Logan, Registrar-Recorder County Clerk, referring to the issues presented with the check in process. On Election Night, Logan had explained that the poll book used to register voters created bottle necks and long lines. He clarified, though, that the voting machines worked properly. 

The Voting Solutions for All People (VSAP) took ten years in the make. It was a long process of consultation and testing that involved all stakeholders, from young voters, to politicians, academics, and above all, the disabled community. With VSAP now active, the county can put to rest the Inkavote that had been deploying since 1968.

An important feature of the VSAP is that voters can cast their vote from any of the nearly 1,000 voting centers spread across the county. Voters can simply go where it suits them. In addition, voting days were expanded to 29 to facilitate participation. For those who preferred to vote at home, mail-in-ballots were sent to every voter.

With VSAP, the county made available the innovative Interactive Sample Ballot (IBS), which is a sort of a hybrid system between online voting and traditional polling-center voting. Voters were able to preselect their preferences on their smartphones or tablets, and then go to a polling place to cast their vote. This optional voting method reduces lines at polling stations and improves voter convenience.

To protect the integrity of the votes, VSAP offered robust security mechanisms. In fact, by complying with the California voting standards, it exceeded those utilized in most other US states. 

After its debut, VSAP will be implemented across the county for the November 2020 presidential elections. With cybersecurity paranoia running high, this will be the ultimate test for VSAP.