There have been several articles on the attempts to automate the election process. I myself am not too optimistic about this and I believe that the “hidden” agendas of politicians will hamper the progress:
The challenge is not in the development of the system or in the technologies that it utilizes, but how well the system can stand up to the attacks from the non-techies with their own political agendas. Any non-techie can easily claim to be an expert and any non-techie can publish any techno-babble to fool the rest of the population. In a country where politicians consider a fictional novel like “œThe Da Vinci Code” as a threat to religion and morality, I wouldn’t be surprised if people use other techno-garbage movies as an argument to show how weak or insecure technology is.
Now what caught my eye, and which further substantiated by thesis, was a statement from Robert Verzola, who gives a myopic, and probably self-serving, view of the solution to a speedy and fair electoral system: punish the cheats, not election automation, is the solution.
(Also published in Technopinoy)
PCIJ quotes Verzola:
Computerization gives a false sense of security that everything will be tamper-proof, he says. “œComputerizing the system will not stop them from committing fraud. Once they learn how to, cheats will make use of computers to cheat.”
Another problem with automation is that it will make cheating so much harder to detect and prosecute, says Verzola, pointing to the experience in the U.S. where there are “œbig issues about cheating precisely because the system is computerized.”
I will not debate on his last point because it is true, but Verzola fails to realize that computer automation will also make it harder to cheat, especially if (and I know this is a big IF) the following requirements are delivered as stipulated in HB 5352:
- adequate security against unauthorized access
- accuracy in recording and reading of votes as well as tabulation, consolidation/canvassing and transmission of results
- error recovery in case of non-catastrophic failure of device
- system integrity, to ensure physical stability and functioning of the vote recording and counting process
- provision for voter-verified paper audit trail
- system audit ability, which provides supporting documentation for verifying the correctness of reported election results
- an election management system for preparing ballots and programs for use in the casting and counting of votes and to consolidate, report and display election results in the shortest possible time
I am not surprised that Verzola has another agenda. While quickly dismissing automation as the solution, he begins to promote his own “Halalang Marangal” (or “the Network of Citizens for Honest Elections and Truthful Statistics,” or NoCHEATS), which was formed because “because we cannot rely on NAMFREL anymore for an honest tally. NAMFREL’s national office lost its credibility after the 2004 elections.” (Source) The item which I found ridiculous was Verzola’s alternative solution: an SMS-based system. The process is quite crude and rudimentary—the volunteers send the precinct-level data via SMS to a centralized database. In fact, it appears that anyone can send the data, but more weight will be given to the trained volunteer. So, in other words, Verzola wants to create another “watchdog” group, and, paradoxically, present an automated tool to counter Namfrel’s manual process. What Verzola fails to realize is that the better approach is to eliminate the concept of a “watchdog” altogether. In fact, if the election automation technology is designed and applied correctly, it renders an independent watchdog group totally irrevelant because there is no way to tamper with the data end-to-end.
I believe there is no silver bullet solution for the whole election automation challenge. My personal wishlist is to first simplify the election process, mirroring the “electoral college” process of the US so instead of counting individual voters, you count, for example, precincts. Then you automate as much as possible the election process, eliminating any physical data handoff as much as possible. You should also make the entire election process transparent to the public—ideally the source code should be open-source so any aspiring geeks can setup their own election system to test the application—and the results should be in a website live, online, and real-time. Implement this, plus the requirements in HB 5352, plus all the necessary encryption tools, and it will be very difficult to cheat. Not impossible (as only history can judge the security of an application) but VERY difficult to cheat.
Then you can punish the cheaters…