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Election Technology Audit by Civil Society, Philippines Experience

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The Philippines has been using electronic vote counting technology or e-counting since 2010. The technology is accepted by the public, even in a survey conducted after the 2019 election, the level of public trust in e-counting machines reached 98 percent. The level of accuracy of the machine is also balanced with the level of public trust. Based on the random manual audit (RMA) conducted, the accuracy of the e-counting machine in the 2019 election reached 99.9 percent.

“In the 2019 Regional Elections, the RMA showed 99 percent accuracy of machine counting. This is the highest since the election years ago. So, in 2019 it shows the highest accuracy of the machine,” said Executive Director of the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE), Rona Ann Caritos at the regional discussion “Future Election Technology in Asia Pacific Countries” organized by the Regional Support for Elections and Political programs. Transitions or RESPECT, Tuesday (6/8).

Random Manual Audit (RMA)

RMA is an e-counting machine audit process that is carried out by counting the votes obtained from the ballots at the designated polling station. The results of the manual vote count are then compared with the results of the vote count by the e-counting machine.

“So, RMA is not a tool to check the authenticity of election results or verify results, but a process to check the accuracy of the e-counting machines used in elections,” said Rona.

RMA Committee (RMAC)

Because the Commission of Election (Comelec) as the developer of e-counting technology cannot audit its own technology, an audit committee was formed called the RMA Committee or RMAC. The RMAC is made up of Comelec, the national statistical agency, and civil society. Civil society is the chair of RMAC.

There are two tasks of RMAC, namely supervising the work of manual vote counting, and comparing manual vote counting results with digital vote counting results. RMA was carried out for 21 days.

“The function of each party is to provide logistical support, the operational results of the RMA, then the government agency to provide statistical principles for the audit. In the 2019 election, LENTE and PIPPA (Philippine Independent Power Producers Association) filled the civil society groups at RMAC,” said Rona.

Plus minus vote counting automation

There are two positive impacts of e-counting carried out. First, increasing public trust in elections. Second, the reduction in the number of disputes over election results.

“Before we automate elections, lawyers say they make a lot of money during elections. After automation, the number of disputes is reduced,” said Rona.

Ironically, the digital vote counting process that cannot be rigged has an excess of increasing vote buying cases in the Philippines. Because it is no longer possible to manipulate votes through the vote counting process, candidates manipulate voter choices by giving money or goods.

“They can’t cheat machines. So, they play in vote buying,” concluded Rona.

Due to the rampant cases of money politics, election monitoring by civil society and the church is focused on money politics.

Confirming the experience of using technology in the Philippines, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) election technology expert, Peter Wolf, explained that election automation can indeed prevent manipulation in the electoral process, because it reduces human intervention.

However, in order to maintain public trust in the election results, the election process and results must be transparent. Election results should be available in the form of easily accessible electronic data.

“Don’t forget to be transparent about the results. Generate the data electronically and make it easily accessible. This is what really helps increase public trust,” said Peter at the same discussion.

Peter also warned that the use of technology can be a factor that weakens the credibility of the election results. The challenges of system malfunctions, cyber-attacks, and disinformation always target election organizers and the technology used. Therefore, election organizers must demonstrate competence in developed technology, trained operational personnel, well-functioning and well-maintained systems, and prompt handling of disinformation.

“If the election organizers are not competent, trust will decrease. So, competence is very important. When the technology used is very impactful, but there is not much transition time and the relevant parties do not understand the adoption process, the technology will be very doubtful,” concluded Peter.

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