What Election Automation Means for the Philippines
So how will Election Automation affect the Philippines? Turns out any successful implementation has effects beyond the political arena, as pointed by a friend who (unfortunately) wants to remain anonymous. Here’s what he sent to me last week.
“The Devil Will be in the Details and in the Execution”
In principle, election automation will remove the potential for human error/cheating from the ballot review and ballot counting. It can give near instant feedback of the election results. As soon as voting closes, it should be technically possible to get the election results within an hour.
I think it will have the following positive effects:
- Remove the potential for human error and cheating at ballot reading and tallying
- Remove the delay and potential for cheating between ballot tallying and preparation of election returns
- Remove the delay and potential for cheating during tallying of election returns
- Make elections much cheaper to execute
- Reduce election violence significantly.
You’re probably wondering why automating the elections could reduce related violence significantly. Well, you won’t have to gun people down if there are no ballots being delivered to polling centers. Though, due to the dual nature of our planned automation (manual polling will continue in less developed parts of the country), such violence won’t disappear entirely.
“I Think it Will Bring Discontinuous Change”
- Quick counts will become obsolete. If the results can be reported on the same day, there will be no market for quick counts. (NAMFREL has recently announced no quick counts for 2010 -Editor)
- Labor will no longer be needed for several days/weeks to manage and monitor elections. the resulting creative destruction will affect teachers, poll-watchers, men of arms, media people, advertising, and the peripheral economy that they patronize during election period.
- Guns and goons will give way to geeks and gold. Attempts at cheating will shift to hacking the transmittal of election results from far flung areas to Manila, as well as hacking the tallying of results in Manila. this could have the happy side-effect of pushing the computer and internet revolution into far flung provinces, as money flows to reward technical know-how every six years.
- Quick direct from population feedback will become a viable option—referendum questions like charter change can be realistically executed in a short period of time if elections become so cheap and quick to do.
In other words, automating elections in the Philippines will have far-reaching effects. At least if and when the entire country’s elections are automated. Conceivably, less people will need to watch over the process, so that means less customers for any nearby vendors or establishments in each area’s election stations.
Most exciting is the prospect of unscrupulous candidates starting to rely on geeks, aside from their goons, to affect the vote. Like my friend said, cheating attempts may actually give more people throughout the country more incentive to learn techie stuff like programming, network management, etc.
Of course, no one wants to see fraudulent elections. But what if Filipinos in the most remote areas of the Philippines suddenly learn computer programming? That’s a possibility, especially if candidates are willing to pay good money for results.
“There are Risk Factors”
- Software – The software used all throughout the process, from ballot reading all the way to returns tallying, must be open for public scrutiny. It may not be proprietary and secret.
- Devices – Ballots and computers used throughout may fail. Backup/contingency plan must exist and be robust. Sabotage could be the way cheating will be introduced, in order to force reverting to manual process.
- Architecture – Transmittal and reporting of results could be susceptible to hacking. instant public visibility of results as counted at source and as transmitted at receipt will mitigate threats of hacking.
- User – Voting needs to be simple and straightforward. Many Filipinos are not computer literate, and barely literate. PEBKAC errors can lead to many spoiled ballots, which may either be invalidated like in the US, or can be used as a pretense to revert to manual.
Some may argue opening the COMELEC’s system up for review will make it easier for cheaters to find vulnerabilities they can exploit. Yet at the same time, it also allows people to find these same holes and suggest ways to plug them.
My friend’s thoughts regarding sabotage make a lot of sense. Any issues encountered with the system will give its detractors more excuses to call for its rollback, potentially making clean and fast elections harder to achieve.
Most important though is making sure voters won’t have a hard time. A relatively easy way to come up with a system that’s not impossible to use is to test it, as detailed in a previous article. PEBKAC stands for “Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair”, a term computer experts use to make fun of user errors. Yet it also represents a serious problem for anyone designing a system, especially when user errors in automated elections mean lost ballots.
Do you have any thoughts on election automation and what it means for the Philippines? Feel free to leave an opinion below.
This entry was posted on Monday, March 9th, 2009 at 9:00 am and is filed under Analysis, Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.