'Automation won't stop all forms of cheating'

by Aries Rufo, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak

Posted at Sep 21 2009 10:23 PM | Updated as of Sep 22 2009 11:41 PM

MANILA - Poll automation will not stop other forms of cheating, like pre-shading of ballots and shading of unused ballots.

Commission on Elections (Comelec) legal department head Ferdinand Rafanan said automation is a “big step” in reforming the country’s electoral system, but it will not be able to totally prevent cheating.

“We are making a major breakthrough…but it does not provide for everything,” Rafanan said during a special forum on poll automation aired over ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) on Monday.

Nacionalista Party (NP) spokesman Adel Tamano cited the case in Mindanao where the practice of filling up ballots a day before election day is rampant.

He expressed concern that under automation, it would be more difficult to detect fraud since voters will only have to shade the ballots, unlike in the manual system where the handwritings, at least, can provide clues whether the ballots have been pre-filled or not.

Former Surigao del Sur district representative and losing senatorial candidate Prospero Pichay aired his concern on unused ballots in case of low voter turnout, or where a large number of voters fail to vote in particular precincts.

Pichay also pointed out that the official voters' list remains bloated and questionable, raising the possibility of authentic ballots being used for fraud.

Under automation, a precinct is allocated the exact number of voters registered there.

Change in values

Cesar Flores, international sales director of Smartmatic, the foreign partner that won the bid to automate the May 2010 polls, said pre-filling up of ballots is “more procedural than technical” indicating that this is not within the control of the machines.

While he agreed that “pre-filling up of ballots is potentially an issue,” he said this kind of cheating cannot be pulled off without the participation of voters.

“If voters allow themselves to be compromised, there is little we could do with that,” he said.

Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) lawyer Howard Calleja said pre-filled ballots “is not the problem of automation.” He said that a totally clean and honest electoral exercise would need “a change of values in the voters.”

Rafanan said the speed by which the machines will count the votes and the immediate transmission of the results from the precincts to the municipal level will deter traditional forms of cheating.

Fingerprint identification

Rafanan said multiple voting, which is a traditional form of cheating that poll automation cannot prevent, can be tempered once the Comelec is able to implement fingerprint identification. The Comelec has already awarded the contract for this P1.6 billion project.

“When we interface this (fingerprint identification) with automation, there is no more problem (on multiple voting),” Rafanan said.

As for wholesale pre-shading of ballots and whether the ballots are inserted individually or fed by only one person, Rafanan suggested that closed-circuit televisions (CCTV) be installed in “hotspot’ precincts.

Rafanan did not say whether the government will adopt his proposal.