CEBU CITY -- Amid anxiety over the first automated elections in the country, a lawyer reminded voters that failure of automation does not necessarily mean a failure of elections.

The machines bogging down or the system getting hacked is not even automation’s most serious threat, he said, but older weaknesses in the electoral system, like vote-buying and harassment of voters and election inspectors, said lawyer Luie Tito F. Guia.

Click here for stories and updates on the Sinulog 2010 Festival.

Another possibility is the machine being tampered with or damaged, especially when the machines are transported. The machines could also be stolen to jeopardize the counting of the votes.

Guia is the immediate past president of the Lawyers’ League for Liberty (Libertas), a non-profit organization of lawyers pledging to uphold law and justice reform and to promote democracy and human rights.

Guia said the public should remember that while automation may fail, the votes can still be tallied because the ballots are available for manual counting.

“What we are after is a successful election…. Automation is a mere tool and we should distinguish (between) failure of automation and failure of elections…. Aggregate choice of the people will still be determined and the true winners proclaimed. The ballots are still there,” he said.

He explained that automation is meant to reduce human intervention in the counting of the ballots to prevent padding and shaving.

“The more people intervene in the election process, the more chances of cheating,” he said.

Manual counting, though, delays elections, creating tension and more opportunities for cheating, Guia said.

One of the concerns he also raised is the security of the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines, which should be tested and sealed three days before the elections.

It means the machines should already be at the polling places before Election Day.

“Ewan ko kung anong security nila (I don’t know what kind of security will be in place),” he said.

In a text message to Sun.Star Cebu, Provincial Election Supervisor Lionel Marco Castillano said it is the supplier of the machines that will take charge of guarding them.

“Smartmatic will be the one to keep and will transport them to the polling places at least three days before the elections under the supervision of the Comelec,” he said.

Security of the machines, Castillano said, will also be the concern of “Smartmatic, with the police.”

With the clustering of 225,000 precincts, about 82,000 PCOS machines, with 2,000 serving as backups, are expected to be delivered by Smartmatic-TIM.

While before a clustered precinct accommodated 200 voters, the automation will enable each precinct to have up to 1,000 voters.

Guia also expressed concern over the anti-tampering security of the PCOS’ machines compact flash memory card, which is customized according to the precinct where each machine is assigned.

Among the problems he expects in the May 10, 2010 elections are cheats trying new methods, more vote-buying, a more expensive campaign, more election-related violence and intimidation, and confusion over the location of new clustered precincts.

Problems may also surface because the voters are unfamiliar with the ballot design and voting procedure. Delays in the distribution of machines could complicate preparations.

Guia said that to help address the possible problems, the Commission on Elections must set clear and realistic rules; come up with contingency plans; conduct a more extensive voter education campaign; ensure transparency in the process; and enforce accountability of the persons responsible.

Bonifacio Belen, regional manager of Smartmatic-TIM, has emphasized that although the election is already automated, each citizen’s cooperation, vigilance and coordination in guarding the votes are still needed. (RHM/Sun.Star Cebu)