IT expert urges public eye on precinct-level poll results

April 24, 2010 10:41 pm 

By Catherine J. Teves

MANILA, April 24 -– An information technology (IT) expert is calling for close public monitoring of poll results at the precinct level to help ensure credible outcome of the Philippines’ first nationwide automated elections on May 10 this year.

”Everyone must be vigilant since poll results at the precinct level most approximates an election’s actual outcome,” IT expert and election watchdog Halalang Marangal (HALAL) secretary-general Roberto Verzola said on the side of Kapihan sa Sulo forum.

He made the call after warning about possible though unintentional occurrence of ‘dagdag-bawas’ or vote miscounting from failed automation due to misalignment problems.

To help people better monitor the poll results, HALAL is recommending Comelec’s implementation of three measures against possible election fraud.

One measure is displaying unique identifiers for each precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machine to be used on election day.

Another measure is printing 29 certified true copies of each election return before electronically transmitting this.

The third measure is conducting 100 percent manual audit of votes cast for the president before any winner is proclaimed.

”Our country will be holding nationwide automated elections for the first time so it’s best to implement these precautionary measures since we’re not sure the PCOS machines are totally accurate,” Verzola said.

He said the identifiers must be conspicuously posted in polling centers and inside precincts so people can report these to authorities and other election watchdogs if they detect seemingly anomalous election-related developments there.

”Comelec can decide on what identifier to use but we recommend per PCOS machine the combination of a consonant, vowel, another consonant and a two-digit number,” he said.

Verzola also said HALAL is pushing for printing 29 copies of an election return as a back-up measure to allay fears PCOS data might be overwritten or erased during electronic transmission of poll results.

”It may not happen but it’s better to have such copies before exposing the PCOS machines to such risk,” he said.

For the recommended manual audit, Verzola said votes cast can be accounted for by grouping or stacking ballots bearing the same shaded space corresponding to a presidential aspirant.

He said the number of ballots per stack can be counted manually to determine how many votes a presidential aspirant received in a precinct.

Such manual count can be used to counter-check the automated vote count, he said.

”This is done in countries with parliamentary governments and the entire process won’t take more than an hour,” he said.

HALAL came up with the recommended measures since it deems these as the ones that Comelec can implement within the remaining time before election day.

”Many things were suggested to improve the automated system but it’s too late to implement those by this time so HALAL identified the most minor requirement which Comelec can still implement to ensure credible and honest elections,” Verzola said.

Earlier, HALAL pushed for testing the PCOS machines’ reliability as Verzola said the misalignment problem in printing the ballots will result in erroneous counting of votes cast.

”With misalignment, two types of errors can surface: a false positive, which means registering a vote or mark that’s not on the ballot, and a false negative which misses a vote or mark that was actually made,” he said.

False positive errors result in additional (‘dagdag’) votes for candidates while false negative errors reduce (‘bawas’) their respective actual poll tallies, he noted.

Verzola is urging authorities to scrutinize the matter, warning “if the ultra-violet marks on ballots were misaligned due to the high-speed printing, as Comelec says, it’s possible the ovals are misaligned too.”

Under the automated election system, voters must completely shade these oval spaces which are located across names of their chosen candidates.

If ballots are misaligned, however, Verzola said the PCOS machines “will be less accurate in reading these shadings.” (PNA) RMA/CJT/rsm

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