The Philippine Automated Election | 2022 National & Local Election
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Introduction

As we combat this COVID-19 pandemic with the growing number of cases everyday, here comes another matter that needs our outmost attention – the 2022 Election.

Next year’s election will be one of a kind. Why? Conducting an election while health and safety concerns loom in the background because of this COVID outbreak will have big impact on how our election will proceed by that time.

Some of the problematic situations that may arise now and until the election day are:

  • Less number of registered voters from what have been anticipated to register
  • Multiple absence in the polls like low turnout of voters
  • Compromised legitimacy and integrity of the election proper

This may only mean, on its face, that the voting process is [or may be] losing its credibility. Added to that, there may also be lack of trust in public authorities.

However, as we can also see, many people also want to participate in the upcoming election [to register], if not only for this pandemic and, obviously, the quarantine protocols.

Election at this time of pandemic has its own share of pros and cons. However, the most important thing to remember is that we should religiously exercise our right to vote.

Not only is it our fundamental right that cannot be taken away by any person, it is likewise our guaranteed right. We must exercise it for the benefit of our democratic process.

What is automated electoral system?

Under Section 2 of Republic Act [RA] No. 9369,[1]RA No. 9369 which amended Republic Act No. 8436,[2]RA No. 8346 an “Automated Election System” or “AES” is a procedural structure, using appropriate technology, which has been demonstrated in the voting, counting, consolidating, canvassing, and transmission of election result, and other electoral process.

The term “automated,” as defined by Cambridge Dictionary[3]Cambridge Dictionary: Automated is a system carried out by machines or computers without needing human control.

With the help of advanced and appropriate technology, all activities concerning electoral processes can be carried out swiftly and compared to the previous manual ballot-type elections, the results are obviously faster.

Other Electoral Processes

What are these other electoral processes, other than the National and Local Election contemplated? Under the Constitution, the scope of the right to suffrage is not only confined with election.

This also includes plebiscite, referendum, initiative, and recall. All of which are constitutionally protected rights that involve the voice of the  majority public in connection with the administration of our government.

The Philippines is a representative democracy, meaning, we elect our representatives to run our government. With that reason, it is only proper that the right to suffrage is not compromised, even if we shift to the automated electoral system.

First Automated Election | PCOS Machine

automated election machine

In the Philippines, the first nationwide fully automated election was held on May 10, 2010 using the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machine.

PCOS machine is an electronic device that reads the votes of the electorate on the basis of a pen which has black markings, encircled, and shaded corresponding the name of the candidate, on a special type of paper used as the ballot.

Since a PCOS machine is a data transmitter, right after the conduct of election, the technician will send the data collected by the said machine to the central server.

It is as if we are sending text messages using our cellphones or sending e-mail via laptop or computer. The data are either sent via Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) like sending text messages, or via a Local Area Network (LAN) connection which uses internet signal.

Considering that the Philippines is an archipelago, there are remote areas in which GSM and LAN are not available. The mode of transmitting the data gathered by the PCOS is via satellite transmission.

What are the advantages of the automated election system?

Since the AES is using technological advancements, the return of the votes to the board of canvassers are indisputably and undeniably faster than that of the traditional manual ballot-type procedure.

One of the advantages is that the selection of candidates is much easier and faster. Instead of manually writing the names of your preferred candidates, a voter will just shade the blank oval corresponding the name of the candidate he wants to vote.

The ballot paper consists of the names of all aspirants from National level positions to the Local level positions. The voter is also assured that whoever contender to whom he casted his precious vote is the one who will be read by the PCOS machine.

Right after the voter inserts his ballot paper to the machine and after the election technician presses the PCOS machine, it will generate a receipt reflecting the votes casted.

As to counting, the data gathered by the machine will be transmitted to the server from municipal or city level, then to the provincial canvassing centers all the way to national level.

Considering that the transmission is as same as sending text messages, it will not buy time for the physical delivery of the returns to the canvassing centers.

This will prevent the manual cheating done in the previous elections wherein they will tamper the ballot which will result to conflicting data as reflected in the Certificate of Canvass.

Moreover, PCOS machines have several security layers. There is a security key which is needed to be inserted to the machine itself before it operates.

Another security layer of the PCOS machine is the “encryption of the data. It boasts a 256-bit symmetric algorithm. In order to bypass this encryption of data, you need at least 262,700,000,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity to solve it in one year.”[4]Pinoy Technoguide, What is a PCOS Machine and How Does it Work?

Thus, it is hard for someone to alter the data to be sent to the central servers or to do the “dagdag-bawas” cheating method, which was allegedly conducted when we were in the manual ballot type of election.

What are the disadvantages of automated elections in the Philippines?

With the growing global technological advancements, it is undisputed that there will always be glitches in the running of any automated systems.

One of the glitches discovered by the Department of Science and Technology was that the PCOS machine could give votes to a certain candidate or render the ballot as invalid due to overvoting. This was glitch was referred to the Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms and Peoples Participation.

There are also reports of paper jamming when a voter inserts his ballot to the PCOS machine, or the PCOS machine itself refuses to accept the ballot being inserted to it.

As an improvised manual remedy, with the help of an umbrella or “walis tingting,” Election Officers will push the improperly stacked ballot papers to push in. There were also reported memory card malfunctions which made delays on the operation of PCOS machines.[5]The PCOS machine blues: paper jams, rejected ballots and makeshift tools

Aside from intrinsic disadvantages, we look as well with the extrinsic factors which hampers the operations of the PCOS Machine.

Taking into account the archipelagic features of the country, there are far-flung communities that are bereft of signal and/or power. Electronic data transmissions will be an inevitable issue.

In remote areas, it is undisputed that cellular signals are inherently weak thereby delaying the transmission of data collected by the PCOS machine. This will cause the election officers to physically deliver the memory cards to the nearest municipal server.

Likewise, power interruption is perhaps the main reason of delay in our AES. Without electricity, these automated machines will not operate. However, the PCOS machine has a back-up battery in cases of power interruptions.

How does the current electoral system affect the election?

The current electoral system has affected the election in so many ways. To some, the present automated voting system has been a blessing; to others, it is a curse.

It is an undeniable fact that shifting to one system to another is a difficult and laborious process. It should undergo a lot of testing to ensure that it will be a solution to the current problem and not another burden that would make things worse.

Everything has its advantages and disadvantages. There is no perfect system. However, what is important is that the disadvantages should not outweigh the advantages.

If these disadvantages outweigh the advantages, then this should be automatically dropped since it might just pose another problem rather than provide a solution.

The shift to the current electoral system has been convenient for many people since we now use machines in counting the votes which makes it easier to count them. Hence, it saves a lot of time and effort.

The election personnel have less work now since they do not have to manually count these tons of votes which would require a huge amount of time before they get to finish tabulating the results.

The current electoral system made elections more convenient to both the voters and the election personnel. Consequently, at this juncture, it should be considered a blessing.

What are some issues and challenges experienced in the conduct of automated elections?

No matter how promising a certain solution is to a particular problem, there would always be issues that would arise in its implementation.

There is no perfect patch to any problem. Most of the time, the solution creates another problem. Yet, then again, what needs to be taken into consideration is the amount of benefits we can get from that solution rather than the problems.

Cheating is the topmost issue people, particularly voters, want to be empathically addressed, especially when it comes to the conduct of automated elections.

The voters, themselves, contend that the conduct of automated elections is susceptible to cheating and election fraud since machines are the ones who will be checking the ballots.

Wile this will be a recurring issue, we have to understand that machines have certain limitations. They only function based on what they’re programmed to do unlike people who can go beyond their job description.

Fake ballots have always been a dilemma during elections. People fear that, since our elections now are automated, fake ballots would proliferate, and be prevalent, and these machines would not be able to detect such ballots.

Thus, this casts doubt to the credibility of elections. But then again, there is no such thing as a perfect system. What is important is that we can gain more benefits rather than burdens.

Problems faced during actual voting

It is every person’s right to vote. However, a lot of people still do not exercise this right because to them it is an inconvenience. They do not see the importance of this right.

This is because there are a lot of drawbacks during actual voting such as long queues, no proper ventilation in the precincts, lack of staff to assist the voters especially those who are suffering from certain incapacities, and even issues arising from the voting paraphernalia itself.

These are some of the problems faced during actual voting by people. These eventually have discouraged them to vote again next election.

These problems should be addressed in order to encourage people to exercise their right to suffrage in a convenient and efficient manner.

Voters should not experience unnecessary stress during actual voting because they would just hate it even more. As we know, most people are short-tempered.

More than allocating budget for elections, the same should be properly utilized to have a smooth and convenient election, hence, spending it appropriately.

Will online voting be possible, or will it be allowed, under existing laws, taking into consideration the harmful effects of the pandemic?

One of the struggles that our democracy is facing these trying times is to secure the credibility and integrity of electoral processes while protecting the voters from the covid-19 virus and sustaining the public health.

Many governments are expanding new systems of voting. Nonetheless, here in the Philippines, the Commission on Elections condemned the possibility of online voting mainly because it is not authorized by law.

What the Philippine law allows is the use of an automated election system in the national or local elections to ensure the credible, orderly, free and peaceful exercise of election processes in the country.

Certainly, online voting can protect the voters from the possible risks of corona virus. Yet, on the contrary, it may threaten the credibility and legitimacy of elections, thereby, being a danger to our democracy.

The computers and technology in this day and age can easily be hacked as we can see from the recurring news about extensive stealing of data and information in the government.

Aside from that, the dangers of online voting also include those voters who are not technologically inclined and may easily be fooled by anyone to vote those candidates who are actually contrary to their choice.

What are the Philippines Laws affecting election? 

There are considerable number of laws which affect the election in the Philippines. The recent law is the Fair Election Act of 2018,[6]RA No. 11207 which amended Section 11 of Republic Act No. 9006.

Republic Act 9006[7]RA No. 9006 is also known as “An Act to Enhance the Holding of Free, Orderly, Honest, Peaceful, Credible Elections through Fair Election Practices”.

This Act was created to  ensure that the qualified candidates who are running for public office are free from any form of abuse, discrimination and harassment. It also provides for the fair and uniform system of election campaign for the candidates.

Another law is the Republic Act No. 6388[8]RA No. 6388 or the Election Code of 1971, this law on the other hand brings out the powers of the commission on election in promulgating the election processes for in the country.

It also designates the date of election period in the regular elections for National and local offices as well as the rule on the possibilities of postponement and failure of election.

Lastly, the Voter’s Registration Act of 1996.[9]RA No. 8189 This law is designed to organize the present processes of registration in order to maintain a clean, permanent, complete, and updated system of providing the list of voters.

Precursor Laws

During Post Martial Law Era, the Philippine Congress enacted the Omnibus Election Law,[10]B.P. 881 which was the then known Batas Pambansa [BP] Blg. 881. This had set the process for the conduct of the 1986 Snap Election and the series of national and local elections thereafter.

In 1991, the Philippine Congress again enacted Republic Act No. 7166[11]RA No. 7166 or otherwise known as the act of Act Providing for Synchronized National and Local Elections and For Electoral Reforms, Authorizing Appropriations Therefor, and for Other Purposes.

This later law has been in effect until the State transitioned into automated process in the year 2010.

Final Perspective

Next year’s election would have been just the same kind just like the past years where it not for this pandemic. Due to physical distancing requirements required this pandemic, election campaigns cannot be conducted in the usual way.

Just like the famous quote “it is during the worst times where you will get to see the true colors of the people around you”- the most applicable quote on what we are experiencing now.

It is during this time where we will get to see the true colors of the people who say they care for us. Individuals declaring their intention to run are seen inappropriate, and insensitive during a pandemic.

Public officials seeking re-election can be seen capitalizing or taking advantage of the pandemic crisis as part of their campaign.

Whether this pandemic will have long-lasting effects to our 2022 Election remains vague. Nevertheless, what we are sure of is that our fight against this virus should not undermine our fundamental right to vote.

This upcoming election is yet another chance for us to be more vigilant and wise in electing our next set of leaders. We have the power to choose our leader. It it our fundamental right to vote and let us now waste this precious right.

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RALB Law | RABR & Associates Law Firm

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  1. Our present automated electoral system is not totally transparent. The VCM or PCOS machine is software controlled and its operation can be altered on a specific date and/or time. A malware can be active during election day which is unnoticed during the test date prior to election day. This is a weakness which can possibly affect the integrity of the count. If we have transparency servers, our VCMs should also be.

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