Comelec spending P2B on voter education

By David Dizon,

Posted at Aug 19 2009 11:44 PM | Updated as of Aug 20 2009 07:45 AM

MANILA – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Wednesday said it is spending P2 billion on voter education activities in the run-up to the 2010 national elections.

Commissioner Lucenito Tagle said the Comelec is lining up various activities to inform the electorate about Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines that will be used in the May 10, 2010 fully automated elections.

He said part of the activities include public demos of the machines and distribution of sample ballots similar to the ones that would be used in the actual election. Comelec Executive Director Jose M. Tolentino Jr. said the sample ballot will be a single 8 ½”x17” or 81/2”x24” sheet of paper printed back to back.

Kay Maxwell, executive director of the World Affairs Forum, said voter education is important to ensure the success of an automated election. She noted that in her own home state of Connecticut, local elections officials conducted voter education activities a year before using the new machines.

“Yes, voting machines are important but they are not the most important thing in an election. Voter education is also equally important because the voters have to have a certain level of trust with the machines,” she said at the forum of the Harvard Club of the Philippines in Makati.

“Faith in institutions is essential for the process to work. Vigilance must be maintained to guard against fraud.”

Tagle said the public demos are particularly important to make people feel comfortable about using the machines. He said Comelec’s Public Demonstration Coordination Unit will be headed by Dir. Sonia P. Tiongson, Director III of the poll body’s Education and Information Department.

Tolentino said the PCOS transmission system will use 128-bit encryption to ensure that the data will not be corrupted or tampered with when it is sent to Comelec’s central server.

“By the time they decrypt one piece of data, the election could be over and the winner proclaimed,” he said.

Contingency measures

Tolentino said the Comelec has prepared contingency plans for various poll automation problems such as failure to count, failure to scan, able to scan but fails to count, able to scan but fails to transmit, and able to scan but fails to consolidate.

He said spare PCOS machines will be on standby for the clustered precincts. He added that Board of Election Inspectors could also bring the ballots for counting and/or transmission to the PCOS of another precinct.

Henrietta de Villa, Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting national chairwoman, said the PPCRV will be deploying a special technical automated group that would augment the PPCRV poll watchers in guarding the automated elections.

Maxwell said that in the US, the national and local governments implemented four major reforms to address major concerns raised during the 2000 national elections.

Firstly, local governments had to professionalize election management. “Decentralization was an invitation to disaster because poll workers and officials had no training prior to the elections,” she noted.

She said election officials also pushed for an adoption of a “service focus” that placed the voter at the center of the election process. This paved the way for many US states to implement early voting wherein voters can cast their vote even before election day.

Maxwell said the government also had to invest in research and development including improvements on the ballot design and use of automated machines that did not need much assistance.

Finally, she said the government also recognized the need for substantial long-term funding of election systems. “There is a need to get real about election funding. Since there is no perfect machine and no perfect election system, constant improvements have to be made,” she said. By David Dizon,