A transparent audit of the automated poll count

The poll counting machine for the 2010 elections is essentially a personal computer with a scanner and a wireless modem.  The scanner will read the ballots, and the modem will transmit the precinct count to a centralized website.

Knowing the above characteristics of the counting machines, we can devise a means that would perhaps convince practically all interested parties that the poll results are accurate.  The following may be one such means.

The basic principle is independent redundancy.

Redundancy requires a second parallel count. For a portion of the totality of precincts, a second machine will count the same ballots and transmit its results to Comelec.  This count will be called the “audit count.” If in a given precinct, there is a discrepancy between the main count and the audit count, the result from that precinct will be “in dispute,” until an administrative or judicial body can pronounce which result is correct.

Independence of the audit count will be ensured by having a separate entity provide the audit machines. In testing the audit machines, the personnel involved will not be the same as those testing the main machines.  Two separate units within Comelec will independently supervise the testing and preparation of the two sets of machines. The personnel running the audit machines on Election Day will also be independent of those who would run the usual machines.

The possible objections to this scheme, as well as FAQs, are:

It will be too expensive. This may be true if all precincts are re-counted, but not so if, say, only 5 percent of 80,000 precincts are subjected to this audit count.  There is enough budgeted funds for audit machines considering that there is also a pre-existing budget for a manual count.

How do we know which precinct will have an audit count? This should be done at random, not known until the end of the election day.  For example, for every 20 machines in an area, there would be an audit machine nearby ready to be used for a randomly chosen precinct.

How will we ensure that the same ballots will be run on the two machines? One way is to have each voter feed and retrieve his ballot personally into the scanner of the main machine, and deliver his ballot to a sealed but transparent ballot box.  This box will be opened at a proper time and its contents then fed into the audit machine.

How will we ensure that both sets of machines are “honest”? They will be pre-tested against each other before election day, then sealed and delivered to the proper precincts.

It is obvious that various ways of cheating will still be possible, depending on how the exact rules are set up.  For example, vote buying would run rampant if vote buyers can match a voter to his ballot, such as through giving him a pre-filled-in ballot.  The dagdag bawas schemes that allegedly occurred in the past will still be there if there is no transparency in the transmission of the precinct results to the centralized website.

But the above-described system will go a long way to help ensure credible elections.

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