Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Eight reasons why adopting a hybrid system will hurt the Philippines’ democracy

After eight years of increasing automation of the voting system in the Philippines, 2018 is marking a distressing period for potential regression -from the technological and political perspectives- for the Filipino people. A group of former and current lawmakers is pushing for the use of a new hybrid election system for the 2019’s polls.

What is the hybrid voting system?

The proposed Precinct Automated Tallying System (PATaS) consists of a semi-automated voting process. It combines manual voting and counting in polling precincts, and automated canvassing through electronic transmission of election returns. The fundamental difference between the hybrid proposal and the current automated election system (AES) is that PATaS calls for manual counting -bringing back all the consequences inherent to manual elections. After voting, the manually-tallied election returns (ER) are encoded into a computer which transmits the information electronically to a canvassing center.

The hybrid system was already tested in June 2015. According to one of the proponents, “going back to manual counting of votes would be more transparent than an automated system. However, instead of returning to a fully manual system, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) can adopt a hybrid system where the results will be transmitted following a manual count.”

However, during the end-to-end demonstration at Bacoor National High School Annex in Cavite province, the system proved unreliable and inefficient. Poll observers noted some issues and problems. They found the manual counting process was inconveniently slow and confusing, for poll workers, voters, and political representatives. Some of the observers labeled the experience as “miserably unsuccessful to even closely match the advantages of a fully-automated election.” The experts agreed that moving back to manual counting, as implied under the hybrid system, would be a significant setback.

Election technology experts have voiced at least eight reasons why reverting to manual counting would represent a dangerous step towards the weakening of democracy in the Philippines.

Manual voting, an unfortunate regression
The hybrid system would mean more people in the precincts just like in the past, and therefore, processes more susceptible to tampering and manipulation.

Slowness increases window of opportunity for fraud
A hybrid system would bring back the long, and time-consuming counting that had plagued elections before the introduction of AES in 2010. One of the clear benefits of the automated system is the speed that allowed Filipinos to know their new leaders before they went to bed on Election Day.

Increased human intervention= increased subjectivity
The hybrid system eliminates one of the most significant benefits of the Philippines’s election technology, its impartiality. By returning to manual counting, those in charge of interpreting the intent of the voter will have comprehensive control to decide what votes are counted (and for which candidates,) and what votes are annulled.

Prone to human error
The hybrid system is prone to human error, whether intentional or not. Poll workers in charge of interpreting manual votes can make a mistake. Also, the equipment used during the canvassing process is operated by people who are likely to succumb to the fatigue of a long Election Day. Traditionally, counting and canvassing occur after 10 hours of voting, when tensions run high, and people are tired. Comelec has experienced (under AES) an accuracy level of 99.995%. This threshold is merely impossible to obtain for a manual count.

Poll workers would be exposed to threats of violence, again 
By expanding the responsibility that poll workers have over the accuracy of results, they become more susceptible to coercion and the target of violence. Given the long history of voter intimidation in the Philippines -and the improvement during the last three elections- going back to manual counting seems like a severe setback.

Increased workforce requirement
Running the hybrid system would require hiring more school teachers and other polling staff for even longer periods of time. In an age of increasing labor cost, going back to manual elections is unsuitable for the EMB. If the hybrid system were adopted, it would require the employment of 900,000 election inspectors for the 100,000 polling precincts. However, there are only 630,000 public school teachers available to take on such a task.

Small parties are at a disadvantage
The fact that it is a poll worker and not an agnostic machine who interprets the paper ballot gives large political parties the capacity to send representatives to all polling stations. This is an advantage over smaller parties. Comelec, an institution that is responsible for leveling the playing field, should avoid the introduction of a system that favors certain parties over minor political groups.

Increase in election costs
The hybrid system does away with the optical scanners, but instead uses a significant number of technology devices (e.g., laptops, projector, scanners, printers) in each polling center. Regarding technology, savings would be minimal, if they exist at all. Furthermore, by increasing exponentially the human power necessary to run the election, the system will inevitably lead to higher costs.