In a news report, a Smartmatic official said:
“Electronic voting can bring credibility to a country with a bad history of fraud, and whose officials are not considered legitimate,” Cesar Flores, the company’s president for Asia-Pacific, told AFP, adding: “As long as the system is auditable, and recounts are available, the benefits significantly outnumber the possible risks.”
This statement is admirable because it restates reasonable parameters for evaluating any automation of elections. It however raises some questions.
For one, the statement seems to imply, or at least it seems reasonable to infer from the statement, that Philippine “officials are not considered legitimate.” This seems a slur against all elected Filipino officials in the days of manual voting. Perhaps that was not intended; it can also be read to mean that those who consider the officials illegitimate are the noisy “sore losers.” Automation is then a way of quieting the protestants. Presumably that would work if the automation is itself credible.
The (net) good in automation is then conditioned on two things: one is auditability, and another is the possibility of a recount.
The statement seems to suggest that the random manual audit alone is not enough; it simply means there was an audit. It does not necessarily mean that the system is auditable. For example, can one say it is auditable if the time stamp is known to be inaccurate? What if the count can be re-set to zero by an insider who knows how to “cover his tracks”? These seem to be questions to ask in thinking about how the automation worked last May.
The statement also suggests that recounts should be available, but this seems to presume that the recount is manual.
But if the recount is also automated, and uses the same PCOS machine, how much credibility should the recount be given? This is an important question for VP candidate Roxas when faced with a response from Comelec that the recount in a poll protest can only be done using machines.
A modest suggestion: a special recount PCOS machine can be used. It should be one that has been tested beforehand with the participation of the contending parties, with its important elements – such as how it detects over/under shading, etc. – made transparent also to independent observers including the tribunal trying the protest. The parties can then stipulate on the reliability of the recount machines.