Sunday, October 01, 2006

Computerizing Philippine Elections, Part 2

The biggest complaints about the method of computerization that I proposed earlier are: (1) There are many far flung areas in the Philippines where there are no roads, no electricity, no computers, and no Internet. (2) Many parents and grandparents are computer illiterate, or they cannot handle the mouse firmly to click on a candidate's name.

The first problem is easy to solve. Let us allow people in those far flung areas where there are no facilities to vote the old way -- teachers commissioned by Comelec go to those far flung areas, carrying ballots, ballot boxes, and other election paraphernalia, on horseback, if necessary. People will vote the same old-fashioned way -- on paper ballots. Their votes get counted the same old slow way. Their votes will be counted, but will be included in the national count many months after the elections are over, because manual counting and manual transporting of election results take time. The rest of the country -- those that live in the big towns and cities, where there are computers and Internet -- can vote in the new manner that I proposed. Their votes are counted and the results of voting are announced a few seconds after voting hours close on election day. The will the people, the great majority of whom live in the big towns and cities, is immediately known. People who live in those far-flung areas are too few for their votes to change the results already made known by the Internet count. Isn't knowing the will of the people the reason for elections, in the first place?

The second problem of computer illiteracy can be eased somewhat by proper choice of user interface. The election web page can allow the user to vote using the mouse, or the keyboard, or the touch screen if it is available. Voters who do not know how to use a mouse can use the keyboard instead; candidates will be assigned letters on the qwerty keyboard and all that the voter needs to do is press the key corresponding to his candidate. For multi-page elections, when there are many candidates, some keys can be assigned to do the function of "previous page" and "next page". Whether the voter uses the mouse or keyboard or touch screen to vote, the voter still needs to authenticate himself to the election program, and he does this by logging in (typing) with his voter's ID number and password. If the voter can not even do this, then he has to use the old fashioned way of voting with a paper ballot.

The mobile phone can also be used to vote. Since the phone has only ten numbers, then only eight candidates can be shown per web page, since two keys need to be reserved for "page up" and "page down". Yet the phone can be used for voting by those who are phone savvy, and we Filipinos are well-known for being phone-savvy.

These two problems can not be solved immediately. It will take many years before all barrios had electricity, computers, and Internet. It will take many years, maybe forever, before every Filipino can learn to use computers or mobile phones. This does not mean that we should not try to use this wonderful technology, which is already here in our midst, to effect clean, orderly, honest, and fast, elections.

No comments: