General Elections

Comelec addresses mailing issues, cybersecurity concerns for GE 2021

Last Make-up Elections (MUE) 2021 saw the launch of an automated voting platform, built by the La Salle Computer Society (LSCS) and the User Experience Society, which had been on the table as far back as 2018. As a result, the first-ever fully online polls boasted a record-high voter turnout of 60.02 percent, the highest since 2014. 

But the election season was not without any hitches. From missing login credentials to a supposed lack of manpower, several issues plagued the DLSU Commission on Elections (Comelec). So, to improve this year’s General Elections, representatives from the Comelec unveil to The LaSallian their plans for a more dynamic and streamlined electoral process.

Unforeseen issues, changes

One of the earliest issues Comelec encountered came from the student list received from the Office of the University Registrar, which was used to send login credentials on the voting platform. According to former Comelec Chairperson JC Ababan, this delay in processing was what led them to postpone the voting period by a day last January 27. 

Even then, the list was still incomplete. Students who had unsettled or delayed settlement of accounts were dropped from the student list for that term, Ababan says. The Information Technology Services (ITS) office had also discontinued using ID numbers for the alternative email addresses for some ID 120 students, which posed problems for Comelec since they previously only requested ID numbers from DLSU offices and extrapolated the email address from there. 

Unforeseen sending limits from Mailjet, a third-party email delivery system, also caused delays. Comelec Chairperson Vincent Magsalin shares that they will be using a server requested from the ITS to bypass the issue. 

During the course of the last elections, over 2,254 students reported not receiving their login credentials. Comelec took a while to resolve the issue as they had to verify each student’s enrollment details. Adding to the issue was the fact that the voting period could no longer be extended to accommodate late voters since technical difficulties were not covered in the Online Election Code. The Legislative Assembly (LA) has since addressed this limitation through amendments passed last July

Manpower improvements

The Judiciary also raised concerns on Comelec’s lapses in handling the missing documents of BLAZE2022 candidates Calvin Almazan and Ma. Bianca Lazo last MUE. In a hearing last March 10, magistrates questioned the availability of Comelec’s manpower, following a complaint filed by Lazo and Almazan, which cited Comelec’s “negligence” for notifying them late of their missing documents.

However, as of press time, Comelec reveals “recruitment, training, and vetting of volunteers [are] still ongoing,” as members need to have an “adequate knowledge of the Election Code, the Memorandum of Agreement, and other relevant documents.”

To aid students in identifying reportable offenses, Comelec also had plans to partner with LA’s Rules and Policies Committee. However, Magsalin says this did not push through “due to issues regarding the separation of powers.”

Ensuring voting system quality

Given the fully online nature of the elections, Comelec has also accounted for possible data breaches. Magsalin says that the voting system will be hosted in a server handled by ITS to deter any external cyberattacks, while all personal data gathered by the website will be immediately deleted after the elections to “ensure that the data is not just sitting by without any use.” 

He adds that the voting website will once again undergo quality assurance testing, with plans to enlist 30 beta testers who will aid LSCS by reporting bugs and sending feedback during the testing period. While there is a chance that unexpected errors would occur during the election itself, Magsalin assures that Comelec and LSCS are now more equipped to handle possible bugs, especially those similar to what were encountered during the last MUE.

Magsalin emphasizes their commitment to designing a user-friendly voting website “as the ease of use and functionality may also be a hindrance to a voter’s willingness to vote.” Furthermore, Comelec will “try to engage voters early in the democratic process through information” through partnerships with student media groups to maintain high voter turnout.

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