May 20, 2009

Securing The Integrity Of The Electoral System

By Atty. Lance D. Collins
Imulat ang Isipan Column
May 2009 Issue, Fil-Am Observer
Opinion Section, Page 6

COMELEC has pushed for and has received budget approval for fully automated elections for the May 2010 elections. But will full automation prevent or further the potential for voter fraud. After all, the purpose of a free and fair vote is to determine the will of the voters.

It was not until very recently that people have voted in secret. Before voting was limited to very few people and votes were cast by voice, show of hands and the like. Secret ballot voting was called the "Australian" ballot and became widespread with the belief that secret voting would better show the true feeling of voters.

However, around the turn of the twentieth century, the secret ballot became susceptible to widespread cheating because once the ballot was cast, there was no independent way to determine if votes were changed. Election reform movements appeared advocating the use of lever machines. Lever machines became widespread in countries that could afford them. It was difficult to cheat because these machines would keep a running tally of the votes as the ballot were cast and they weight several tons.

Hawaii, for example, then moved to a computerized system using optical scanned ballots that used similar technology to standardized tests, like the PSAT and SAT tests. This provided s simplified way of voting that included a paper ballot for auditing purposes.

The lever machines elsewhere came into disfavor after the problems with the 2000 State of Florida recount. In that election, the instruments used to mark a voter's choice were defective and failed to properly mark the ballots leaving many ballots with pregnant and hanging chads.

In rural areas of wealthier countries and countries in the Global South have contintued to rely upon paper ballots. However, since 2000, the U.S. government required major changes in federal voting procedures to ensure what happened in the U.S. state of Florida did no occur and to ensure that disabled voters could independently exercise their right to vote.

This created a massive global investment in research and development in voting technologies utilizing current and emerging technology.

The purpose of every voting system is to determine the will of the voters, "kagustuhan ng mga tao." Every system can be evaluated in two ways: usability and integrity. If a system is complicated to understand and the average voter does not know the proper way of showing their vote, it is likely that it will be impossible to accurately determine the will of the voters. The problem, most people are familiar with, is cheating. This involves the integrity of the system. If the voting procedure is easy to use, but an equal number of fake ballots are added to the total, the will of the voters, will not be determined.

Automated voting system usually are good at making the process of voting simple. Hawaii's paper ballot system is using a pen and filling in a circle next one's choice. Other automated system have a touch screen where one presses an area that represents one's choice.

Cheating in these kinds of system, like the ones proposed by Comelec, come in holding of the tally information electronically and transmitting the information electronically. Recent reports of Chinese spies hacking into the U.S. power grid demonstrate that electronic storage of sensitive information is open to tampering.

If Comelec wants to secure the integrity of the elector system, they will have to have clear and transparent controls preventing any kind of tampering of results. In this way, the will of the voters can be secured and integrity of the political system can be strenghtened. Otherwise, Comelec is just a high-tech version of goons, gold and guns. Voting systems are complicated and need transparency and security at every step of the process.***

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