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Philippines election: Doubts arise over electronic voting machines

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“The antiquated manual system has been a breeding ground of election cheating because prolonged delays in announcing official results has offered opportunities for altering results,” says Mr. Doronila.

A law passed in 2007 mandated that the vote-counting must be automated for the presidential, congressional, and local elections scheduled for May 10.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has contracted a Venezuelan company, Smartmatic, to set up a computerized system that will count the votes as they are cast.

The company’s vote-counting machines have been used in elections in Venezuela and Curacao.

The new ballot lists the candidates for president and up to 31 other national or local positions. (With the old ballot, the voter had to write down the names of his preferred candidates.) The voter must fill in blank ovals beside the names of his preferences, then feed the ballot into a counting machine, which tallies the votes and encrypts the results.

The machine then uses public cell-phone networks to transmit the tallies to central computers for the final counting. It should take just 48 hours for definitive results to appear, Comelec says.

Smartmatic says that the encryption cannot be broken.

New system tests poorly

But critics, among them politicians, nongovernmental organizations, the media, and voters, worry that the technology will not work properly or can be sabotaged.

Two series of field tests conducted by Comelec in January in representative samples of precincts showed that the machines frequently rejected ballots, usually because ovals were not filled in properly, and sometimes failed to connect to the cell-phone networks.

Voters have expressed ignorance about the new system. The Pulse Asia survey found that 71 percent have little or no knowledge of how it works.

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