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PIA Press Release
2009/02/06

Comelec automated poll version vulnerable to wholesale fraud, says Ateneo think tank

Butuan City (6 February) -- Stressing that the credibility of the 2010 elections is crucial to the much-needed renewal of Philippine democracy, the Ateneo-based Center for Strategic Studies yesterday warned that this credibility can be endangered by the "disadvantages" of the optical mark recognition system (OMR), the poll automation system favored by the Commission on Elections.

Jesuit priest Fr. Romeo Intengan, president of CSS, raised his concern about studies showing that the OMR is not transparent and susceptible to wholesale fraud even as he lauded the present Comelec leadership for exerting extra efforts to ensure the computerization of the 2010 elections. "Poll computerization experts warn that with the OMR, the danger of fraud may be embedded in the system itself, with or without the knowledge or connivance of the vendor or of the Comelec. A few computer technicians can subvert our whole election system," Intengan noted.

He pointed out that the disadvantages of the OMR were already observed in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) election in August last year where the system was pilot-tested, along with the direct recording electronic (DRE) system.

The DRE has been dropped by the Comelec, a move welcome by Intengan who said the system is "very cost prohibitive, not transparent and a logistics nightmare."

The disadvantages of the OMR can threaten not only the credibility of the 2010 elections but also the renewal of our democracy, Intengan said.

Intengan's warning came on the heels of President Macapagal-Arroyo's marching orders to her political parties to merge and gear up for the 2010 elections. He said his concerns are prompted by a presentation by some computer automation experts led by former Comelec chair Christian Monsod.

The priest is urging the poll body to consider another option for poll computerization, the open election system (OES), which the group of Monsod is pushing. Intengan noted that among present poll automation technologies, the OES is the "most transparent and least dependent on the honesty of implementers."

He added that the OES is also most practical. It will only cost around P2 billion, just about a fifth of the P9.9 billion budget that the Comelec has asked for the poll computerization project.

ntengan conceded that OMR is more high-tech and faster in counting than the OES, but he emphasized that transparency is as important in election as speed in counting.

In an OES, votes will be cast and tallied as in manual voting, thus preserving the secrecy of the ballot and the transparency of the precinct-level tallying, but the canvassing of precint tallies from the voting center (school) to the national level will be automated.

In both OMR and DRE, the electoral process is automated from voting to canvassing with their difference being that the OMR has a paper trail whereas the DRE has none.

In OMR, voters choose their candidates by shading with pencil the corresponding ovals on pre-printed ballots. The OMRs at the voting centers (schools) will read these ballots and at the same time count the votes.

Intengan noted experts' observations that votes shaded in the OMR ballot are easily exposed to tampering and official OMR ballots are vulnerable to advance shading which can be done by a single person. Such tampering of ballots would be very difficult to trace or determine, he added.

OMR is also very vulnerable to large-scale sabotage, Intengan added. "Anyone with an ill desire to stop voting or counting can simply cut the supply of electricity, the occurrence of which is not uncommon in the country during elections."

Intengan agrees with Monsod's group that what needs to be sped up by automation is the canvassing from the voting centers level to the national because it is at these stages that the local election process is taking so much time. Precint-level counting is normally finished within the voting day, he noted.

"The ARMM experience should not be repeated. Particularly not in a very important national election that gives us the chance to put in power new leaders who can effect much needed reforms in the country, " Intengan emphasized. (Louie Ceniza, Nat'l Security Council/PIA-Caraga) [top]

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