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Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 03:07:00 04/21/2009

Filed Under: Elections, Computing & Information Technology, Eleksyon 2010

Most people who have seen and heard about the cheating done in past elections welcome the move to computerize the 2010 polls. But some have expressed apprehensions, saying that computerized polls could result in computerized cheating. Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano has gone so far as to propose that P100 million be set aside as an incentive for a hacker to demonstrate the weakness of the automated poll system that would be used in the 2010 elections.

The bids of interested suppliers of the counting machines will be opened on April 27. Before then tests to determine whether the various machines being offered are foolproof should be conducted.

Actually, there are two urgent tasks that have to be done in the one year that is left before the 2010 elections. The first is to complete the purging of the voters? list. We may have an automated poll system but if the voters? list is not clean, the poll results will not reflect the real will of the people. There are 45 million registered voters, and of this number, about one-tenth, or roughly 4 million, have been struck off the voters? registry. Among those who were purged were dead voters, ?flying" voters and ?ghost?? or nonexistent voters.

The biometric registration of voters remains uncompleted despite the expenditure of P1 billion on the project since 2004. The Commission on Elections will have to redouble its efforts to finish cleaning up the voters? registry before May 2010.

The second urgent project is to automate the poll system, and here the Comelec will have to make haste carefully. Tests have to be conducted and safeguards installed to ensure that automated cheating does not occur in 2010.

Some of the things the Comelec may have to do to make the automated poll system foolproof:

? Hire enough information technology experts to oversee the 2010 elections. Former Comelec Chair Christian Monsod has expressed the fear that if the responsibility for counting and canvassing is handed over to ?software specialists,? they could manipulate the results.

? A paper trail must be provided. A draft election return should be printed out after the Board of Election Inspectors has uploaded the results to the server.

? Stand-alone machines should be preferred. Manuel A. Alcuaz Jr., president of Systems Sciences Consult Inc., said that if the machines are not stand-alone, a modified program could be downloaded on Election Day that would add votes for certain candidates and subtract from others, resulting in an electronic ?dagdag-bawas" (add-subtract) scam.

? The counting machines should not be equipped with any communication capability. Alcuaz said that if the counting machines can send electronic election returns to the municipal servers, a person who knows the system well could change the programs on the machine from a remote and undetected location.

After decades of suffering with an antiquated system that took weeks to determine the election winners, the nation may at last get to know the poll results in two or three days. But safeguards have to be taken to ensure that an automated poll system does not result in bigger and worse poll cheating.

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