The Philstar: Automation leaves no room for error

MANILA, Philippines - People may find their votes invalidated in the country's first fully automated elections in 2010, not due to ignorance of the use of the machines but due to failure to correctly fill out the ballots.

Cesar Flores, Smartmatic president for Asia- Pacific, admitted that failure of voters to fill out the ballots appropriately may lead to invalid or worthless votes since such votes will not be counted by the automated machines.

Flores explained that the 'key' in the automated election system to be adopted in the May 2010 elections is not the computerized counting machines but how voters will fill out the ballots.

''The voters have to fill at least 50 percent, if not completely, the oval or else the machine will not read it and the vote will not be counted,'' Flores pointed out.

He added that ''over voting'' or filling more ovals than the particular positions being contested would also render the vote invalid.

''Let's say if the voter filled 13 ovals for the 12 senatorial race, his vote for that particular position will not be counted. So the voters must not over vote,'' Flores stressed.

In case of an error, Flores said crossing out the oval would not help.

Commission on Elections (Comelec) spokesman James Jimenez said the automated elections do not allow any room for mistake, thus voters are advised to be careful and make a list of the candidates they would vote for.

The issues of over voting and other difficulties in the automated election system were raised as Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM representatives demonstrated last Wednesday to The Philippine STAR employees how the automated machines work.

Smartmatic-TIM is the company that won the bidding for poll automation.

Flores said the use of the automated machines is not really a problem even for computer illiterate voters since they would not be operating the equipment, only the election officers.

''Fears that there would not be enough computer educated election officers to operate the machines are unfounded because all they have to do is to plug in and turn on the machines,'' Flores further explained.

He said the election officers and the voters need not know about the technology to operate it.

''They really do not need to do anything, except fill out the ballots accurately,'' he stressed.

To address the possible problems that might crop up in connection with the implementation of the automated polls, Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM are now undertaking a massive voters education campaign.

''The key really is in the voting that is why we are going around to educate the public about the new election system,'' Flores said.

Jimenez noted that the Comelec has created two and - as part of the voters' education program.

According to Jimenez, 100 automated machines are also arriving end of next week for the nationwide voters' education program.

Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said the 100 machines would be deployed to various areas in the country.         

He gave assurance that the ballots to be used in the country's first ever fully automated elections cannot be easily tampered with all the security mechanisms being adopted.

The ballots, he said, will have a special marker and a code for each voting precinct.

''Tampered ballots will not be read and will be rejected by the machines,'' Jimenez said, adding that  the Comelec will not be printing excess ballots.