Internet voting: A risky proposition

An online voting machine: Are we ready for this?

An online voting machine: Are we ready for this?

By Bert Eljera

From Manila last week came this news that surprisingly got no major play or comments from the country’s leading newspapers. This was the rather audacious claim by Senator Aquilino Pimental III that by 2016, as many as 10 million overseas Filipinos, may cast votes in that year’s presidential election.

He based his assertion on amendments to the  Overseas Absentee Voting Act that the Senate had ratified and may soon become law with President Aquino’s signature.

Pimentel, chairman of the committee on electoral reforms and suffrage, sponsored the bill, calling for the removal of the provision that requires Filipino immigrants and permanent residents of other countries to declare their intention to return to the Philippines after registering as voters under the OAV Act.

More significantly, the ratified bill would allow Filipino migrants to register and vote through mail, both postal or electronic, fax, “and other secure online systems.”

“Maybe not in this coming election in May, but once the OAV amendments take effect,” Pimentel said in a statement.

Let me repeat that, or better yet, let Pimentel repeat that: “The participation of overseas Filipinos in the election of national officials would be as easy as their turning on their computers and connecting to the Internet to register or to vote.”

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Internet voting. Is the Commission on Elections prepared for that? In the wake of criticisms from the recent mock elections to test the agency’s capability to conduct an electronic election, is the country ready?

I think not! Pimentel may be a presidential candidate in 2016 and he’s setting his sights high, but his projection of the country’s technological advances are rather too ambitious to say the least.

In the Nov. 2012 election in the United States, only two -states – New Jersey and California – allowed some kind of Internet voting.

The Huffington Post reported that New Jersey allowed voters to vote online because of Hurricane Sandy that disrupted voting preparations in some areas. And the conditions were stringent: A voter must signify an intention to vote online and must be granted permission to do so.

In California, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, “only overseas and military personnel protected under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act can cast ballots via e-mail.”

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Interviewed by CNN on a story about online voting, Avi Rubin, a professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University,  said that security is the biggest concern, with the possibility of hackers and corruption of files: “online voting is a very unsafe idea and a very bad idea.”

There’s also the problem of verifying the identity of the voter while also guaranteeing anonymity of his or her vote.

Registering online was an option in 2012 in some states like Indiana and Utah, actual voting online was not feasible.

PC Week reported that at a talk last year hosted by the Overseas Vote Foundation, David Jefferson, a computer scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said: “Email voting is by far the least secure voting method ever devised by man. Email ballots are transmitted in the clear over the Internet. They’re not even encrypted.”

Jefferson was concerned with the loss of privacy, potential miscounting, and the ease and possibility of vote tampering by foreign governments or others.

Countries that use Internet voting, such as Estonia, Norway, and Canada, choose to use Web applications for Internet voting. With a Web app, a voter requests and receives a blank ballot, then transmits the filled-out ballot back to the government.

Attacks can occur at many points of that transaction: on the vendor’s development network, county election network, the voter side, or at any point between the parties involved.

Is the Philippines ready for this Pimentel vision?

Borongan fun run a huge success

Part of the Fun Run participants gather near the Our Lady of Nativity Cathedral in Borongan City.

Part of the Fun Run participants gather near the Our Lady of Nativity Cathedral in Borongan City.

BORONGAN CITY – With  a cool breeze wafting from the sea, about 500 folks of various ages joined the first ever Fun Run organized by the Philippine Red Cross Eastern Samar chapter for the benefit of its blood bank and other projects.

Under overcast skies but no rain, the runners – and walkers – negotiated the 5-kilometer -or- so distance, ending at the plaza, where a short program was held.

“It’s immensely gratifying that Borongan, despite its perceived chronic indifference to noble pursuits, can come together after all,” said Jesse C. Solidon, the chapter’s director. “In behalf of our chapter, thanks everyone!”

Solidon said he expects a bigger turn-out next year as more people become aware of the Red Cross in Eastern Samar and as its programs benefit more people.

The Philippine Red Cross Eastern Samar chapter is one of the few in the Philippines that operates a blood bank, thanks to the support of friends and benefactors from the United States and elsewhere.

A Borongan native, Dr. Nimfa R. Aguila, now a neurologist in Kingman, Arizona, has initiated a fund-drive that raised money for some blood bank equipment, and now the facility is nearly fully functional.

A couple more equipment are needed, but another fund-raiser, more permanent in nature is underway.

Called Wall of Fame, this entails a pledge of $100 a year donation from some prominent Boronganons from around the world. So far, several dozens have made the pledge.

The national Philippine Red Cross is providing support by paying for some of the blood bank employees, including the services of medical technologists.

At the Fun Run, participants paid a P100 registration per runner, with several coming in as groups, including the local contingent of the Philippine Army.

 

 

 

About 700,000 in Red Cross run

More than half-a-million runners join Red Cross run in Metro Manila.

More than half-a-million runners join Red Cross run in Metro Manila.

MANILA, Philippines – Over half a million people, including children, joined the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) fun run yesterday aimed at promoting volunteerism among Filipinos and generating funds for disaster victims.

Organizers said about 700,000 people participated in this year’s Million Volunteer Run 2 (MVR2) in Pasay City and Quezon City. The run was also held in other cities across the country.

The run aims to strengthen the network of volunteers down to the barangay level, and create awareness and raise funds for the agency’s humanitarian services,” said PRC secretary general Gwendolyn Pang.

“Through the MVR2, the PRC hopes to make the public more aware of and to support the key aspects of volunteerism through disaster preparedness and response, health and welfare, and voluntary blood donation,” she said.

Several families in Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental – the two areas that were devastated by typhoon “Pablo” late last year – joined the run in their area, the PRC said.

“Now more than ever, the country needs more volunteers who are trained in disaster response skills,” PRC chairman Richard Gordon said.

PRC governor Mabini Pablo said they will be using the proceeds from the MVR2 to strengthen the network of Red Cross 143 volunteers at the barangay level.

Red Cross 143 is the flagship volunteer program of the PRC that recruits and trains 44 volunteers in every barangay – one team leader plus 43 members.

CereCare fun run

Meanwhile, 700 child rights’ advocates participated in the advocacy fun run organized by the CereCare Philippines Foundation in Ortigas City yesterday.

The activity, dubbed “Dream Chase 2013,” aims to benefit children with special needs and raise the public’s level of awareness to bring hope and acceptance for these children.

Lily Tanco, CereCare Philippines founder, said the donations will go to the occupational therapy program of the institution.

CereCare Philippines Foundation is a government-recognized educational institution that provides psychological rehabilitation services and special education program for children with special needs such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and other similar conditions.

Purging OFW voting list a betrayal

In what many call a “betrayal,” the Commission on Elections may purge about half of 589,000 overseas Filipino workers from the official voters roll for failure to vote in two consecutive election cycles.

About 246,000 OFWs may lose their chance to vote in the May 2013 elections if the Comelec carries out its threat to take these Filipinos off the list – unless they avail their “last chance” to be retained in the National Registry of Overseas Absentee Voters (NROAV).

Writing from San Francisco, lawyer Rodel Rodis, a community activist, said the Comelec promulgated rules, that, in effect, will deny the OFWs the right to vote, unless they signify their intention to vote in May.

Rodis wrote that only 29 of 238,557 overseas absentee voters “manifested” their intent to vote, as of Jan. 11, 2013, leaving the vast majority out of the election loop.

It’s a shame that the Comelec could do something drastic when some kind of accommodations may still be possible, like keeping these workers on the voting list, regardless of whether they voted in the past or not.

No harm is done in keeping them on the rolls – after all, they may be too busy with their work in some God-forgotten spot in the world to travel to a voting center – but we show our appreciation and recognition of their contributions by simply making it possible to have their voices heard through their votes.

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The Inquirer’s Neal Cruz wrote a pretty compelling column recently about Calicoan in Guiaun, Eastern Samar with its pristine beaches and a tourist destination even better than Boracay.

His description was glowing, and as a Waray-Waray from the place, you swell with pride. He wrote: “There are caves to explore. There are tourist resorts in Guiuan that are first-class, serving the freshest seafoods anywhere: lobster, crab, grouper, blue marlin, tuna, abalone, sea cucumber, squid, octopus, etc. Take your sweetheart there this Valentine’s Day.

“Calicoan Island is an ideal place not only for surfing but also for island-hopping, swimming, boating, diving, spelunking, jungle trekking, and rock and wall climbing. It is surrounded by virgin forests where you can watch wildlife.

“Why is Calicoan better than Boracay? Besides having its own airport and therefore nearer, it is bigger than Boracay. It has 1,600 hectares to Boracay’s 1,024 hectares. Boracay has only one beach but Calicoan has two—one facing the Pacific Ocean and the other facing Leyte Gulf.”

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Indeed, I agree it’s a treasure yet not fully tapped. I do think, however, that Neal is slightly misinformed about the airport in Guiaun. Its World War II-era runways are strewn with tall weeds and hardly possesses the modern terminal equipment to qualify as an international airport.

To make it safe for international travel, huge airport improvements have to be made. Forget about the legislator trying to stop it’s operation. Common sense stops it from being operational now.

It could be a political football, however, between two politicians from opposite ends of the province who are running for the lone congressional seat. And that would be tragic. The long-neglected area needs some break.

First step should be road improvements. I visited the place a few months back on my way to Sulangan, the pilgrimage town that was the epicenter of the 7.9 September earthquake, and the road through the towns of Mercedes and Salcedo and in pretty bad shape.

Improve the roadway and that would considerably boost Calicoan and Guiaun, not only as fun destinations, but more so as popular sites for religious pilgrimages and historical explorations.

Consider: Homonhon Island, which the explorer Magellan first landed on when he discovered the Philippines in 1521, and Balangiga, a nearby town where the infamous Balangiga Massacre at the turn of the century took place.

Nature’s assets are there; what’s missing is the political will.