The DLSU Commission on Elections (COMELEC) is planning to automate future University Student Government (USG) elections. With a team of five other developers, Troy Mirafuentes (III, CS-ST), project head, is hoping automation would speed up the election process and increase turnouts.
New Voting System
The automated system of elections is an initiative the COMELEC has been considering for a while. In an interview with The LaSallian, Mirafuentes shares that a College of Computer Studies (CCS) student tested a thesis on online voting systems back in 2012, but the effort was eventually discontinued. For the present project, the COMELEC partnered with the Research and Technology Development committee of La Salle Computer Society (LSCS) for the creation, coding, design, and testing of the system and the User Experience Society – DLSU (UXSoc) for the user interface design of the application.
While the process is still being finalized, Mirafuentes already has an outline of how the new system would work. First, the voter will go to any polling booth. Unlike the old system where each college has its own unique booth, the new system will have universal voting areas which any student could use. Next, he or she will surrender his or her ID to the COMELEC officer in exchange for a verification code. Once inside the booth, he or she will input his or her ID number and the code. A tailor made ballot will appear so that the voter will not be confused on whom he or she will vote for. After voting, an online receipt will be sent through email. According to Mirafuentes, this will also serve as “verification.” As the voter leaves the booth, he or she may then claim his or her ID.
Reasons for Automation
Mirafuentes enumerated the different problems plaguing the COMELEC every election season. According to him, the whole process is very “tedious from the start”. From printing the ballots ,to the voting process, to counting the turnouts, to canvassing the results, each step is prone to human error. “There are some votes that don’t get counted at all, because of error on our part, or there is something unclear in the ballots,” he said. Furthermore, around 10,000 ballots are printed each time, half of which goes to waste, due to low turnouts.
As a Computer Science major, he decided he wanted to develop a system that will answer to these problems. Once the automated system is implemented, Mirafuentes believes that “errors will be eradicated or lessened.” For example, all votes are sure to be counted. Since the whole process would be done by a machine, there would be no human error. In addition, an electronic voting system would remove the need for printed ballots, consequently, saving money. Finally, in the old, manual system, canvassing takes a day, with counting that starts at morning, finishing next morning. With automation, the results could be shown immediately, a day after voting has ended.
This new system will reduce the load for both the COMELEC and the voters. Automation further benefits students as the process is said to be easy and fast. He claims the system will expedite and make efficient the whole voting process and canvassing of ballots.
Basis for Success and Strategies for Implementation
In order to consider this plan a success, one key metric the COMELEC would be monitoring is turnout. Mirafuentes thinks that both the ease and novelty of the new system would contribute to an increased number of voters. “[Since the system is] designed to be faster, more and more voters can vote faster”, he shares. On the part of the system itself, if it were to have little to no bugs, then the system would also be considered a success. Every voter should procure a receipt for their vote to be deemed counted and for the project to be called efficient and effective.
The COMELEC has the support of administrative offices such as the Office of Student Leadership Involvement, Formation and Empowerment (SLIFE) and the Information Technology Services (ITS) Office, which handles the University’s servers, in achieving automation. Because the system would be deployed with La Salle, Mirafuentes is confident that it would not crash.
For the voters and political parties, Mirafuentes has faith that they would not break or tamper with the devices. After all, the system is built with the students in mind, in order to ease everyone’s tasks. However, if a voter still tampers with the machine, it would result to a corresponding offense.
Private Testing and Project Status
Originally, the plan was to test the system in the recent USG elections, specifically for the Br. Andrew Gonzales FSC College of Education (BAGCED), with actual deployment during the freshmen election next academic year, to see any need for improvement. However, because the deadline was not met, the COMELEC would resort to a private test instead, by calling for volunteers. Currently, only the voting part is still unfinished. Everything else, including the turnout, counting, profiling and administrative features have already been created.
Student views on the automation
Ella Baccay (III, BEED-ECED) believes the initiative “[allows] for a more green, and environmental friendly election” as the mitigated use of paper lessens carbon footprint. She adds that the tailor made ballots for each student in automated elections results to less errors, specifically less invalid votes.
This sentiment is shared by Harlene Hui (III, BS-FIN). She indicates the less voided ballots help smoothen the load for the COMELEC in counting the votes.
Publicizing automated elections
Given students are part of the election process, Mirafuentes believes they need to be aware of the new system. He plans to inform the student body of the initiative through collaborating with various student media groups and promote the plan in the succeeding term.