Transparent and credible election system

by Gus Lagman
by Gus Lagman

As part of the National Science and Technology Week, the Comelec [Commission on Elections] Advisory Council (CAC) organized a Technology Fair, held at the SMX on July 24-28, inviting vendors of automated election systems (AES) to present their solutions to the council, the Comelec itself, the media, and other interested parties.

The CAC Chairman, Under-Secretary Louis Casambre of the Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO), was kind enough, even on short notice, to allow TransparentElections (that’s us), in cooperation with Namfrel, to participate in the presentations.

Those who presented were: 1) Dominion Voting System; 2) Indra; 3) Lambton Technologies; 4) Scytl; 5) Smartmatic; 6) Unisyn; 7) VSG Voting System; and 8) TransparentElection (TEop).

The first six presented a mix of OMR (Optical Mark Recognition) and Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) systems. The seventh was a punched-card system; while the eighth (ours), a combination of manual precinct-counting, electronic transmission, and automated consolidation and canvassing. Only VSG and Teop are Filipino developers, the latter presenting its Transparent and Credible Election System, or TCrES.

To put the issues in their proper perspective, let me mention that the main reasons for automating our elections are:

(1) to improve the accuracy of the counting of votes and tabulation of results;

(2) to eliminate, or at least minimize, cheating;

(3) to make the process more, not less, transparent to the public; and

(4) to speed up the process.

Almost all vendors can claim (even if some claims are untrue) to have the capability to improve accuracy, eliminate cheating, and cut down the processing time to a week or less. But, only TCrES can also clearly claim to have the capability to make the election process MORE, not less, transparent.

Why is transparency important?

If the voters do not see how their votes are counted, how will they know that their votes were counted correctly?

Of the many countries that have reverted from automated to manual precinct-counting, Germany, in particular, did so not only because it wants the voters to see the counting, its Constitution also wants the voters to understand how their votes were counted.

Transparency is required by Republic Act No. 9369, signed January 23, 2007. The very title of RA 9369, says, “AN ACT AUTHORIZING THE COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS TO USE AN AUTOMATED SYSTEM … TO ENCOURAGE TRANSPARENCY, CREDIBILITY, FAIRNESS AND ACCURACY OF ELECTIONS …”

Section 1 further says that, ” …the process shall be transparent and credible and that results shall be fast, accurate and reflective of the genuine will of the people.” (Emphasis mine).

If there’s cheating in manual elections, the voters and candidates would see and would have a basis for protesting. With automated precinct-counting, nobody would see the cheating. It is so unfair to the candidates that even if they are so sure of winning in a particular precinct (their bailiwick, for instance), it is so difficult, because of the lack of transparency, to prove the cheating. The protest process is thus very much impaired, a situation that saddened many losing, perhaps, cheated, candidates in the 2013 elections.

An organization in the United States called Black Box Voting said that in designing technology for elections, we must ensure that it will enable “the counting of votes in public rather than counting them in secret. We do not consent to any form of secret vote counting, administered and controlled by government insiders and their vendors.”

Today’s election mantra worldwide is, “Secret voting, public counting.”

To show you how transparent it is, here’s TCrES, in brief:

1. VOTING — same as in the past manual voting, possibly with re-designed (for simplicity and efficiency) pre-printed ballots

2. PRECINCT COUNTING — same as in the past manual counting (“taras”), but with improved design of Tally Sheet forms and Election Returns, for more accurate and less cumbersome counting

3. Encoding, verification, and ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION of precinct results to the Municipal Board of Canvassers (MBOC) and the Central Verification Server (CVS)

4. Automated CONSOLIDATION and CANVASSING of votes at the municipal, provincial, and national levels

An interesting additional step to the above is the simultaneous precinct-counting — a sort of electronic “taras” — using a tablet (an iPad, or equivalent), projecting this to a big screen so more people can see what’s going on (therefore, MORE transparent), then printing the tablet’s version of the Election Returns (ER). After verifying that this version of the ER matches with the manual one, the tablet can then electronically transmit it to the MBOC and CVS. No need to encode the ER, since it is already in digital format.

A PCOS machine being tested by election inspectors and observers. [Photo by Romy Cayabyab during his assignment as a 'foreign election observer' in the May 10, 2010 national elections.]
A PCOS machine being tested by election inspectors and observers. [Photo by Romy Cayabyab during his assignment as a 'foreign election observer' in the May 10, 2010 national elections.]

The manual precinct counting will only take 5-12 hours, as in the past. A few precincts which might encounter problems, could take a bit longer. On the other hand, the Consolidation and Canvassing phase, which will now be automated, will be cut down from as long as six weeks, to just a few days. No more dagdag-bawas.

This real situation is the reason we have been asking Comelec the question: Why spend billions of pesos on PCOS, which only cuts down the election process by half a day, but removes the transparency in the counting process? It is, after all, the automation of the canvassing that shortens the process from six weeks down to a few days.

The Comelec should respond to this question. The P20 billion it wasted on the 2010 and 2013 elections came from taxpayers. Taxpayers deserve to know!

*** This article, first published on August 19, 2014 and circulated and posted in discussion groups, is reprinted on this site with the permission of the writer Mr Gus Lagman who is a former Comelec commissioner.

August 19, 2014 11:00 pm

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How to send an email broadcast safely

If you want to broadcast a message to multiple email addresses, you should use a dedicated mail list application. These days, there are a number of dedicated mail list scripts which can be downloaded for free.

The only thing is that you need to have access to a web server to install a mail list application, or you need to have your own website where you can install an email plugin.

Failing these, the next best thing is not to enter the multiple addresses in the To: or Cc:fields but in the Bcc: field of your email window. That way, the email addresses are not displayed. Doing so exposes the owners of the email addresses to spamming, and technically, breaches their online privacy and security.
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ISP network PLDT getting worse

The Philippines’ premier ISP network, pldt.com.ph, has improved its position – in a worst kind of way.

By not resolving the spam issues raised against it, PLDT has moved from spot #10 to spot #8 in the Spamhaus Project’s World’s Worst Spam Support ISPs roster.

As at 13 December 2010, PLDT has 38 spam issues against it, the same amount of issues we noted in our last spam watch. [Read more…]

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PLDT joins World’s Top 10 Worst ISPs

The latest report on the world’s worst spam problem networks includes pldt.com.ph, the domain name of the Philippines’ telecommunications company PLDT.

The report, released by the Spamhaus Project, has listed 38 unresolved spam issues against pldt.com.ph which positioned it as the world’s number 10 worst spam support network.

The Spamhaus Project is a Geneva- and London-based spam-tracking organisation with 28 investigations and forensics specialists in eight countries.

pldt.com.ph is also reported to be the Internet service provider of three known professional spam gangs including spammers known for using pornographic images in their spam or unsolicited bulk email.

The database for the Spamhaus Project’s world’s top 10 worst ISPs is updated daily based on realtime information. The world’s worst ISP is hostnoc.net (75 spam issues) which is reported to be running a dedicated spam server bot. [Read more…]

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Confession of a “Postie” user

When doing my experimental WP-hosted blogs, it was a delight using the plugin built into WordPress.com which allows me to update my blogs using emails.

I found the WP plugin very handy, in fact a necessity, considering that most of the time, I am on the road.

I tried using that to my self-hosted WP installs, but to no avail. The problems I had encountered were just too many to list down.

So I’ve been updating my blogs from my desktop that is when I have the time. Last month I tried again.

After upgrading my WP installs to version three dot oh and my server’s PHP build to version five plus, I installed “Postie.”

I’m still tweaking it, but I believe I have found the perfect solution (so far) to my blogs updating needs. [Read more…]

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Database character sets and WordPress

We recently upgraded the MySql installation in our emanilapoetry website which is using WordPress 2.8+ install. The upgrade somehow caused a mismatch in the character sets between WordPress and the database tables, the former using a default character set “utf8″ and the latter using “latin1.”

When our technical people tried using WordPress’ default character set in the database script, other more serious problems came out. It appears that there is a known issue with the current version of WordPress which we are using with the newly installed database script. See this page > http://codex.wordpress.org/Converting_Database_Character_Sets

Tests and comparisons

To confirm our assessment that the problem was indeed resulting from the mismatch, we did a quick test changing our website’s WordPress configuration to match the database script. The “funny looking characters” displayed in some posts were immediately eliminated. Upon further investigation, we noted that the “funny looking characters” are actually errors in converting “unrecognized characters” which include incorrect use of spaces between words and between an apostrophe or double-quote and single-quote and nearby character.

Whilst we were able to eliminate those “funny looking characters”, a new set of “funny looking characters” are now being displayed on posts made after the upgrade date.

Here are screenshots of a sample entry, Bago Na, which was posted after the upgrade.

Screenshot 1 shows the post with mismatched character sets. Screenshot 2 shows the post with matched character sets.

Comparison between the two posts disclosed that the new set of “funny looking characters” was the result of errors in spacing.

Here are screenshots of another sample entry, Be One Nation, also posted after the upgrade.

Screenshot 3 shows the post with mismatched character sets. Screenshot 4 shows the post with matched character sets.

As you will note, Screenshots 3 and 4 do not display any differences at all. Unlike Bago Na, Be one nation does not display this new set of “funny looking characters.” Upon closer examination, we noted that Be one nation has correctly spaced out words and sentences and has complied with rigid typesetting rules.

Conclusion

Based on these tests, there is no argument that the character sets of the database and WordPress should be matched. But that is only half of the story. The other half is that in order for posts to display properly, there should be no extra and unnecessary spaces between words or characters, the two character sets should yield the same results. “Unrecognised” characters should also be avoided so that no losses and errors in conversion would result during database upgrades and changeover.

Whilst the “latin1 char set” may be rigid and may restrict writers’ “creativity”, we believe this is something that we have to live with. But that should not be a problem at all. After all, aside from the message and form, the poet should also be concerned with correct syntax, spelling, and typesetting anyway.

In summary, the options we considered are:

1. Amend the WordPress “utf8″ char set to align with the “latin1″ char set used by the database tables to eliminate the “funny looking characters” in the posts entered prior to the upgrade.

2. Do not amend the WordPress “utf8″ char set which is more “generous” with errors, and leave the “funny looking characters” for old posts as they are.

We will be implementing Option 1 shortly.

This option requires that emanilapoetry members should endeavour to observe the correct rules of syntax and typesetting in their posts if they want their posts to display properly.

Note: As of this writing, there is still a mismatch between the database and WP character sets. Thus, those funny looking characters may still be displaying in some pre-upgrade posts not compliant with typesetting rules. This may change once we implement the character set matching. In the process, new posts not compliant with typesetting rules may not display properly.

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