Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Counting Demands Accuracy, Transmission Demands Verifiability

I just heard Ben Abalos tell Pinky Webb of ABSCBN News that the Comelec would put "BEST EFFORT" to the new Election Modernization Law expected to be hammered out by the committees of Sen. Dick Gordon and Rep. Teddy Boy Locsin by early November. He said that the Comelec would be putting the emphasis on transmission of election results, since it is during the multistage manual canvass that wholesale cheating occurs (dagdag-bawas). He said that partial coverage could be implemented for the National Capital Region (NCR); the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM); and Batanes (remote and far to the north).

In the upcoming May, 2007 midterm elections, the voters will be electing 12 Senators to the Upper House of Congress; their Congressman or Representative in the Lower House; their Mayor and other local government officials. It should be noted however that only those twelve Senate positions are contested nationally, i.e., among all the voters at-large. Congressmen, Mayors and other local government officials are only chosen by the citizens of their district or municipality.

Therefore any pilot test of a new Election Transmission System would strictly speaking only be applicable to the Senate race if the idea is to demonstrate and test a system capable of handling say the 2010 Presidential elections in a full blown election with a tested Transmission System perfected.

Looking back at 2004 and the Automated Counting Machines fiasco (which Ben Abalos, I am sorry to say, will always be associated with), we see that the overriding technical concern was the issue of ACCURACY (whether it was 99.995% or 99.9995% is moot in this discussion!). There the question was could the Optical Mark Readers of MPC meet the Comelec's required accuracy rating for an ACM.

Looking forward to the 2007 elections, we may well ask what definite technical requirement the Gordon-Locsin Committees should impose on any proposed implementation of a modernized transmission system by Comelec analogous to the Accuracy Rating requirement imposed by Comelec on ACMs.

I think the law should really focus on defining "functional requirements" as part of the new emphasis on "technology independence." I give below, several examples of "definite technical requirements" that might be stated in a provision of the law for Comelec to implement:

(1) As soon as the polls are officially closed on election day, and throughout the canvassing period, Comelec shall grant open, public access to an official data base of incoming election returns that includes the names of all candidates running for national public office and how many votes they have won in each PRECINCT. This establishes full transparency and verifiability on the "addends" that the canvas will use to proclaim the winners.

(2) Comelec shall provide for the timely transmission and inclusion in the data base of individual precinct level results, within the shortest possible time after those results are known and certified by the local election officers and the political party representatives.

(3) Comelec shall provide an efficient mechanism for speedily resolving challenges to precinct level results in the data base and providing a record of such resolutions and/or corrections if any.

I would like to stress that the "technical requirements" on the Transmission System should involve system design considerations and overall functionality, and not be obsessed with "the speed of transmission" per se, which will obviously be close to the speed of light.

But the theme that I discern as quintessential to a transmission system is VERIFIABILITY.

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