'Optical Mark Reader system lacks transparency'

by MARIA ALTHEA TEVES, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak

Posted at Mar 05 2009 07:22 PM | Updated as of Apr 03 2009 11:51 PM

If the 2010 elections will be fully automated, the Philippines would be the "first nation in the world to go from manual polling straight to full automation,” said Gus Lagman, former president of the Philippine Computer Society. 

Finding this to be too abrupt and lacking in transparency, some groups from the private sector, led by the Movement for Good Governance (MGG), are pushing for the use of the Open Elections System (OES). The Commission on Elections (COMELEC), on the other hand, wants a fully automated election using Optical Mark Reader (OMR) machines.

Programmers from the University of the Philippines Department of Computer Science already finished the first version of OES. The demonstration of the software was shown in a press conference March 5 at the Asian Institute of Management Conference Center .

On Wednesday, the Senate approved the supplemental budget of P11.38 billion for the elections. “No bicameral process, it will go straight to the president for her signature,” said Lagman who is worried that the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) is not ready for a fully automated electoral process.


In fully automated elections, voters will only have to shade ballots, and the OMR machine will take its picture. The data and votes counted will be sent to municipalities. Everything is electronic but hard copies of ballots are saved.

With OES, the voters still need to write names of the candidates and manual counting will be done. The number of votes will be recorded in the OES software by people and will be published online. PIN codes are needed in order to edit or manipulate data.

“Open Elections Systems means open to cheating,” COMELEC Executive Director Jose M. Tolentino told abs-cbnnews.com/Newsbreak in an interview with COMELEC officials March 3.

Tolentino said that OES is highly dependent on the morality of the people counting the votes. “What if they were paid, what if they work for a politician?” he asked. 

On the other hand, Lagman said the OES is transparent because “the manual counting of votes will be done publicly, people see the results in their precincts.”

The website for the OES will be updated in real time so anyone around the world can see the results. 

“We want to eliminate vote-shaving and padding. Machines will not be able to do that but people can,” said COMELEC chairman Jose Melo.

Voters’ Handwriting

Lagman’s group argues that penmanship is important in determining the number of times a voter filled a ballot.

“When elections are fully automated, all you have are shaded boxes. It is impossible to determine whether one person filled out a lot of ballots,” Lagman said.

Lagman said that most of the time, people vote for only seven candidates. “In senatorial elections, the five blank spaces could be filled by other people. The voters’ penmanship is crucial,” he explained.

But COMELEC officials said that voters’ penmanship is a problem.

“Votes are not counted because no one can understand what some of them are writing,” Tolentino said.

COMELEC Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer said that the fully automated system of elections will address problems of voters forgetting names of candidates, candidates with the same last names and indeterminable handwriting.


Biometrics is a method of recognizing a person based on thumb print, signature and iris or retina identification.

“Biometrics is good,” Lagman admitted. But he said that most biometrics machines used are defective and not 100% accurate.

Ferrer admitted that the machines are sometimes defective.

“There is a pending bill for mandatory biometrics of voters for the purposes of 2013 elections,” said Ferrer.

Ferrer said that time is not enough for all voters to undergo biometrics for the 2010 elections. 

“You know Filipinos, they always register last minute,” said Tolentino.

Lagman said that if there is no biometrics for a fully automated election, cheating would surely happen.


According to the COMELEC advisory council’s report last January 2008, the COMELEC is not ready for a fully automated election, Lagman said.

He also said that it was stated in the report that COMELEC’s information technology (IT) level is not advanced enough to be ready for the 2010 elections.

Melo, meanwhile, said that they are aware of the status of the COMELEC’s IT.

“We want big names from international companies backing up the bidding for the machines. This will allow people to trust us because the bidding will be transparent, seen, witnessed by the public, and will involve neutral outsiders,” Melo said.

Lagman said that vote counting should be in the hands of Filipinos, not foreigners who made the machines.

“OES software is written by the Filipinos, votes will be counted by the Filipinos,” said Lagman.

(Visit https://www.transparentelections.org.ph to see OES software)