The Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) or Optical Mark Reader (OMR) technology system adopted by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) under the present political conditions and capability of the nation’s election manager, the Comelec, will make the whole electoral process bereft of credibility, transparency, or voter participation. With no electronic technology being invented that is safe from human intervention such as hacking and other types of computer attacks, the system will most likely lead to wholesale electronic cheating.
Unbeknownst to the public and media, it will trigger a scramble for control of the key to the hardware and software technology among the moneyed and powerful. The May 2010 synchronized national and local elections where full automation or full electronic voting will be used for the first time is a major political event that should not be measured or prepared for solely on their installation of technology. It should be seen rather as one political exercise that remains dominated by the elite under the Arroyo government and where electronic technology may be manipulated to allow the oligarchs to remain in power.
Such possibility has become stronger with the entrenchment of powerful fraud machineries, with the Comelec yet to solve its credibility problem and the overarching concern of election fraud is yet to be decisively addressed. The new technology system will be in the hands of these powers but the winning bidder which will most likely be a multinational company also shares this power. Under these conditions, the technology preferred by the Comelec will all the more reinforce the manipulative character of the traditional electoral process. The overall electoral struggle that seeks to bring progressive, non-traditional minds with a strong voice in Congress and in other elective positions has always included the campaign to make the Comelec independent and to have an open, transparent, and credible elections. The automation of the elections deserves the people’s support – but only insofar as it promotes the principle of “secret voting and public counting”; for as long as it would make the polls clean, transparent, and credible and would give election stakeholders especially the voters some latitude and leeway to participate and contest election results, among others.
Contrary to what is now evolving, the modernization of the country’s election system is supposed to promote and enhance – not limit or constrain – the people’s voting rights as an expression of their sovereign power to choose the kind of government the people deserve. The Comelec’s PCOS (OMR) is drawing increasing opposition from leading IT specialists, computer science academe, independent centers engaged in electoral struggle and governance as well as members of Congress, the interfaith community and other critics. From their perspective, the technology system is vulnerable to wholesale electronic cheating (by external hacking, internal rigging, or other means) made possible by the fraud machineries, resources and powers of the regime – for that matter, of other powerful traditional politicians, TNCs, and a foreign power.
The use of PCOS (OMR) will likely translate to huge election losses and the disenfranchisement of millions of voters. Comelec’s technology system makes counting, canvassing, and consolidation of election data invisible and difficult to track and are made so fast as to make the filing of election protests impossible and poll watching extremely difficult if not a futile exercise. Under the PCOS or OMR, the fate of the 2010 elections could as well be decided by Malacanang, Comelec, the winning bidder, and the cheats. The opposition to the PCOS (OMR) has included not only a critique of the various internal weaknesses, errors, and vulnerabilities of this technology as experienced in many countries including in the Philippines’ August 2008 ARMM elections but also procedures being pursued and adopted by the Comelec as specified in its Request for Proposal (RfP) / Terms of Reference (ToR).
In opposing, there is a need to expose the perceived manipulative character of the Arroyo government and the traditional electoral process that will likely be made more dangerous by the type of technology chosen by the Comelec. At the same time, there is a need to put forward alternative technologies that seek to make the elections transparent and open, allowing and encouraging more participation from the people and access to electoral data even as we remain vigilant against the fraud machineries of the government and other traditional political forces. We should also put forward mechanisms and safeguards to allow more room for public intervention like legal protests and other challenges to fraud.
As an alternative to closed technologies such as the OMR and DRE, we propose an automated election system that is consistent with the parameters/requirements of exercising the people’s democratic rights – the right of suffrage, right of access to public information, and others – making poll watching viable and effective, and allowing election protests to be filed to meet specific objectives; where we can overcome constraints. We support a system where the people, along with their organizations, political parties, and poll watch groups can be allowed to maneuver, have access to, and intervene in the various processes or stages of the automated election system ranging from voting, to counting, and canvassing; in filing election protests to the proclamation of winners.
A) International History
The company was contracted in 2004 for the automation of electoral processes in Venezuela. Since 2004, its election technology has been used in 25 local and national elections: in Venezuela, USA, Curaçao, Belgium, Brazil and The Philippines. Its mileage includes more than 1.5 billion audited votes, each with a voter-verified printed receipt, cast using some 193,000 voting machines installed in some 330,000 poll centers. On August 11, 2008, automated regional elections were held in the Philippines’ Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). In the Maguindanao province, voters used Smartmatic’s electronic voting machines, while voters in the other 5 provinces (Shariff Kabunsuan, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi) used manually marked ballots processed using OMRtechnology. The overall reaction of both the public and authorities was positive toward the solution. In May 2010, Smartmatic automated the National Elections in the Republic of the Philippines. The process involved 50.7 million voters choosing from more than 85,000 candidates contesting for 17,000 posts.
In October 2012. Smartmatic participated in the elections of 3 countries. In Venezuela, October 7, for the first time in the world, national elections were carried out with biometric voter authentication to activate the voting machines. Out of 18,903,143 citizens registered to vote in the presidential elections, voter turnout was around 81%, both record figures in Venezuelan electoral history. The same day, Smartmatic provided election support for data and voice communications to the 16 most isolated states in Brazil, and also battery power support to voting machines. These services implied hiring and training 14,000 technicians who worked at 480,000 polling stations, servicing over 500,000 pieces of election equipment.
On October 14, 2012, Belgium utilized Smartmatic’s technology and managed services to carry out regional elections in 153 communes in the Flanders and Brussels-Capital regions. The solution deployed was developed according to the strict standards and guidelines set forth by Belgian authorities. USP (from Smartmatic Security Solutions) was installed in more than 500 branches of Santander-Serfin Bank, (Mexico). Since 2006, the Office of the Mayor of Metropolitan Caracas in Venezuela began the installation of the integrated public security system that helps authorities to provide immediate responses to citizens whose safety has been jeopardized. In 2011, The District of Cartagena in Colombia selected Smartmatic as technology provider for the new Financial Administration Service of the Integrated Mass Transit System (Transcribe) which will operate based on a highly automated Fare collection and fleet control system.
The Smartmatic Identity Management Solution has been deployed in Bolivia (Biometric Voter Registration for the Bolivian National Electoral Court (July 2009 – October 2009) with 5.2 million people registered); Mexico (Provision of enrolment terminals and software for the National ID Program of the Secretariat of Governance (Dec 2009 – Dec 2012) with 100 million people to be registered); and Zambia (Provision of enrolment terminals and software for Digital Mobile Voter Registration contracted by The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) & Electoral Commission of Zambia (February 2010 – October 2010)).
B) National History
In July, immediately after the May 1992 Synchronized National and Local Elections, Operation MODEX, which stands for Modernization and Excellence, was born in a strategic planning seminar in Tagaytay City which was participated in by all COMELEC key officials from the Chairman and the Commissioners, down to all the department and regional directors. In this seminar, modernization of the electoral process was identified as one of the eight (8) components of Operation MODEX. Thus began the modernization efforts of the COMELEC under the able leadership of then Chairman Christian S. Monsod. In June, a study entitled “Modernizing Philippine Elections” by an international consultant in election administration, Ms. Marie Garber of Rockville, Maryland, USA, in collaboration with the Philippine Computer Society (PCS), scanned alternative technology to modernize the electoral process in the Philippines. The services of Ms. Garber and the PCS consultants were contracted under the auspices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The significance of the Garber Report is that it served to affirm the direction of the COMELEC, as contained in its six-year Operation MODEX program (1992 – 1998), and that it presented several available technologies in the COMELEC’s modernization effort to modernize the Philippine electoral process. The following month, in July, of the same year, on the basis of the Garber Report, Andersen Consulting did an Information Systems Planning (ISP) Study for the COMELEC, in behalf of the PCS, which, among others, made a preliminary evaluation of voting and canvassing equipment and recommended consideration of either the optical mark sense or punchcard system as possible technology fitted for Philippine setting.
The COMELEC made sure that conduct of the public transactions in its organization in connection with its modernization programme, in its activities and linkages with public and private agencies, would be transparent, promulgating a resolution (Res. No. 2616) to this effect in the month of August. Immediately after, the COMELEC sent requests for proposals/bids to suppliers shortlisted in the July Andersen ISP study and to other local and foreign of canvassing equipment. Two months afterwards, in October, a 15-day inspection trip to the United States was made by a specified COMELEC team, composed of: 1. then Commissioner-in-Charge of the Modernization Project – Regalado Maambong, 2. then Planning Department Director – Mamasapunod Aguam, 3. then Finance Services Department Director – Ernesto Herrera, 4. then Technical Consultant for the Modernization Project of the Commission – Mr. Alwin Sta. Rosa, and 5. then Andersen Consulting President – Mr. Baltazar Endriga The inspection trip team met with the following while in the US:
1. Business Records Corporation (BRC), Texas
2. Sequoia Pacific voting Equipment, Inc., New York
3. National Computer Systems International (NCSI), Minnesota
4. Unilect Corporation, California
5. Officials of San Mateo County, state of California
6. paper suppliers/manufacturers
A preliminary report was presented to the Commission en banc afterwards, which included a slide presentation of the election systems surveyed and sample ballots/forms used in various jurisdictions in the US. Integral to the team’s reports was its recommendation of the optical mark sense technology as the best suited for Philippine elections and the short listing of three (3) companies based on the results of the evaluation during the inspection trip.
The following year, the COMELEC already began preparations in anticipation of the signing of the draft modernization bill in to law in Congress.
The first quarter of the year saw an equipment demonstration from each of the three (3) shortlisted companies from the US inspection trip, which consisted of: 1. American Information Systems, Inc. (AIS) of Nebraska, USA 2. Business Records Corporation (BRC) of Texas, USA and
3. National Computer Systems, Inc. (NCSI) of Minnesota, USA Media, representatives of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), Congress and the Citizen’s Arms were invited to attend. In the course of the six months that followed, a bidding process for selection of supplier for canvassing equipment. Before the end of the third quarter, after a thorough study of the suppliers’ proposals, BRC was selected. Then Resident COA Auditor certified the bidding procedures undertaken to select the vendor as being in accordance with Executive Order 301.
In the beginning of the fourth quarter of the year, an initial meeting was held between COMELEC and BRC to draft a Memorandum of Agreement for Modernization. Two contracts were decided to be signed with BRC: one for the acquisition of eight (8) demo units, and another for the purchase of 492 units of canvassing equipment. The Commission had set to pilot the new election system in the coming May 1995 elections, which was still subject to Congressional approval.
However, up to the end of the year, no contract was signed with BRC pending the passage of a law allowing for the use of a new election system. The COMELEC had two (2) demo units on loan from BRC which it used in conducting public demonstrations in Congress, the Senate, non-governmental organizations and other interested organizations. Still awaiting the passage into law of the pilot modernization bill, the COMELEC set out with its information campaign of slowly introducing the new election system to the public. Public demonstrations were given to parties who invited the COMELEC demonstration team for presentations, lead by then MIS Director-in-Charge, Alwin Sta. Rosa. These demonstrations included those given before NGOs at the Galleria Suites at the Ortigas Center in Quezon City in February and before students of De La Salle University, Manila in March. The new election system was also put in display in one of the booths at the March 15-16 Database Expo ’95 Exhibit that was held at the Hotel Nikko in Makati. The COMELEC demonstration team used the two BRC demo units in these presentations.
Finally in May, Republic Act (RA) 8046 entitled “An Act Authorizing the Commission on Elections to Conduct a Nationwide Demonstration of a Computerized Election System and Pilot-Test It in the March 1996 Elections in the autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and for Other Purposes” was passed into law. COMELEC now has solid legal basis for its efforts.
After the passage of RA 8046 and with the change in COMELEC administration, COMELEC had to present the current modernization program to the newly-appointed Chairman Bernardo Pardo and Commissioner Teresita Flores. Aside from protocol, this was a necessary step since if the current modernization program was ever going to push though as planned, it would depend very highly on the support of the current top management and the direction it would be led to by the same.
Public information efforts even led to the presentation of the new election system to Malacanang Palace in June, in the presence of then Pres. Fidel Ramos and his Cabinet for budget discussions for the 1996 ARMM election. The new system was even demonstrated, a few days after the Malacanang presentation, in an ABC 5 television program named “Public Forum” which was hosted by UP Professor Randy David.
As previously mentioned, with the change in COMELEC top administration, COMELEC had to repeat its pre-qualification and bidding procedures for the selection of an optical mark sense (OMR) machine beginning the last week of June when it promulgated Res. No. 95-2636, approving the pre-qualification criteria for the selection of an OMR machine which, among others, specified the type of equipment required by COMELEC, that is: 1. OMR, Mark Sense, Scanning or similar technology
2. passed government test for election purposes
The same three (3) companies that figured in the previous year’s selection were shortlisted for this year’s selection.
In October, Minute Res. No. 95-3542 clarified COMELEC’s biding requirement as to the number of machines needed in the ARMM election: “Per package of software/equipment should cover a maximum of two municipalities. One package should consist of at least one machine which can finish the counting/canvassing in all municipalities within 24 hours; all provinces and/or district 48 hours; and a regional consolidation within 72 hours…”. The public bidding was conducted immediately afterwards, and after demonstrations and testing of the machines of the shortlisted suppliers, which included a voting test conducted on selected COMELEC personnel to determine the acceptability and ease of use of the suppliers’ sample ballots, COMELEC accepted the bid of AIS by November in Min. Res. No. 95-3785.