Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Philippines gears up for 2013 e-voting

When e-voting made its big debut in the Philippines in 2010, most Filipino voters were guardedly optimistic. Although majority was rooting for the new system, the country’s long tradition of electoral fraud seemed an impossible problem to eliminate.  Yet e-voting took everyone by surprise – leaving Filipinos in awe of its speed, accuracy and transparency.

That singularly impressive experience led most Filipinos to become ardent advocates of automation. Some sectors, especially the teachers who ran the polls in the precincts and who have benefited greatly from the introduction of e-voting, have in fact sworn to resist any move to shift back to manual.

This overwhelming national sentiment was affirmed when the Commission on Elections (Comelec) exercised its option to purchase the 82,000 PCOS machines it leased from Smartmatic in 2010.

With barely four months before the elections, the Comelec finds itself with its hands full ensuring that the polls run as smoothly as possible.  There is one major difference in the way things are being run this time, though.  Whereas the 2010 polls had only one provider (Smartmatic) handle the project from end-to-end, this year the Comelec decided to break down the project into several components and bid them out separately.

While some observers perceive some benefit in not allowing a sole provider perform everything, it remains to be seen whether the poll body is up to the Herculean task of orchestrating the various components that make up a project as  technical and as complex as a nationwide e-voting.

Recently, the Comelec conducted a mock election in multiple points all over the country. The dry run had generally been successful despite encountering a few reported glitches which were corrected as soon as contingency measures were put into place.

The exercise tested not just the technology but also the human component of the system, with procedures and protocols undergoing strict scrutiny. The poll body had vowed to use the learning in the exercise to fine-tune its procedures.

Filipino voters are hopeful this year's e-voting will be the next big step towards their dream of a totally transparent and credible election.