The Comelec 100% manual audit of ballot authenticity

Roberto Verzola is an environmentalist and convenor of Halalang Marangal.

On its own and without any prodding, the Comelec decided to conduct a manual audit of ballots to determine their authenticity. The Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) will do the audit by shining an ultraviolet (UV) lamp on each ballot and deciding, based on their visual appreciation of the ballot, whether it is authentic or fake. This audit is not random, but 100%. It is not automated, but manual. It will be conducted not after, but before proclaiming winners.

What made the Comelec decide to conduct this 100%, manual, pre-proclamation audit of ballots for authenticity? They discovered that the high-speed printing had caused the UV security mark on the ballots to be “misaligned by one to two millimeters”. As a result, the voting machine’s UV scanner was inaccurately reading the misaligned mark and making wrong decisions whether the ballot was authentic or fake. For instance, here’s an April 5 report from GMA News:

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Monday denied that poll machine provider Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM) failed to supply the correct ink for the ultraviolet (UV) security markings that are being printed on the ballots for the May polls.

“There was no admission on the part of the Comelec,” said Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal, who heads the poll body’s steering committee on automation.

Earlier, the Comelec said it will be using hand-held UV lamps to verify the authenticity of the ballot after the high-speed printing of the ballots caused the UV marks to misalign, making it hard for the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machine to read the security feature.

Thus, the Comelec shifted to a 100% manual audit of the ballot’s authenticity.

If the ultraviolet mark was misaligned by one to two millimeters due to high-speed printing, then, for exactly the same reason, shouldn’t we be concerned that the ballot ovals may be misaligned by one to two millimeters too?

However carefully voters will shade the ovals, if these ovals are misaligned, then the voters’ marks will be misaligned too. Just as misalignment caused the UV marks to be registered unreliably, misaligned shaded ovals, representing the voters’ choices, will also be scanned and registered unreliably.

An unreliable scanner makes two kinds of mistakes. The first is a false positive, when it reads a mark that is actually not there. The second is a false negative, when it misses a mark that is actually there. A false positive is, in local parlance, a “dagdag” and a false negative is a “bawas”.

As designed, the machine allowed the voter to verify first, if the machine correctly registered his choice. This would have enabled voters to catch any inaccuracy by the voting machine in registering their choices – a requirement of the law, in fact. But the Comelec has disabled this built-in feature of the machine.

The misaligned UV mark could be detected by voters, because the machine rejected the ballot, which alerts the voter to the problem. The Comelec therefore had no choice but to correct what would have been very obvious to voters, watchers and election inspectors: machines rejecting too many valid ballots.

But misaligned marks will not be detected by voters, because the machine will not inform voters of their choices, but will simply thank them and then record any “dagdag-bawas” that has occurred as if these were the voters’ choices. If the Comelec chooses to ignore this problem, no one will notice on election day.

According to the Comelec, the printing of the 50.7 million ballots is nearly done. Ahead of schedule, the Comelec says. That’s because no untoward incident delayed the process. The printing was such “high-speed” that it misaligned the UV marks, which will now have to be detected through a 100% manual pre-proclamation audit. But how do we distinguish now between, on one hand, the good ballots and, on the other hand, the bad ballots with ovals in varying degrees of misalignment?

One solution is to re-enable the voter verification feature. But it is probably too late for that. In fact, it was too late to fix the UV scanning problem, the Comelec said, so they simply disabled the scanner.

And they switched to a 100% manual pre-proclamation audit to determine the authenticity of each ballot using hand-held UV lamps.

Isn’t the solution to a similar misalignment of ovals obvious?

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