On the practicability of voting machine receipts
March 8, 2016
There is a growing clamor for Comelec to provide voters this coming May polls with receipts for their ballots issued by the voting machines. Former senator Dick Gordon and Rodrigo Duterte’s party have asked the Supreme Court to compel Comelec to do so on the grounds that these receipts are the Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) required by the Automated Election Law (R.A. 9369.) On the other hand, election lawyer Romulo Macalintal says that voting machine receipts are not the VVPAT and therefore should not be required.
In this paper, we shall not discuss whether the receipts are the VVPAT or not. Rather, we shall try to deal with the practical question – how will the voting machine receipts be used?
Functions of the receipts:
(a) The receipting process enables the voter to verify that his ballot was read accurately by the machine. (b) The receipt is an evidence of the vote that is safely in the hands of the voter, unlike the ballots which, though also a voter-verified evidence of the vote, are handled and kept by others.
What is the practical value of function (a)?
It ensures only that the ballot has been read correctly by the machine. It does not help ensure that the election returns will be accurate.
The work of the machine is input-process-output, that is, it receives input data, processes the data and produces output data. The receipting function is input verification and that is its only practical value. It has nothing to do with ensuring the accuracy of the process or of the output. (Input verification is a way to control the act of the person using the machine; it does not control the act of the machine. The correct way to control the act of the machine is output verification. For example, at the ATM you verify your input on the screen, then after the machine does its work, you verify its output by counting the cash and checking your account balance.) To reiterate, verification of vote receipts has nothing to do with ensuring that the election returns are accurate.
The only way voters can ensure accuracy of election returns is to verify the output; that is, to verify that the election return correctly states how many ballots were cast, how many ballots were valid, and how many votes went to the different candidates respectively. There is no substitute for this.
What is the practical value of function (b)?
By itself, your vote receipt has no practical use. You cannot check if it has been included or excluded in the election return. You cannot affirm or complain about the election results based on your vote receipt. This is because the receipt represents your individual act while the election return represents the collective act of your precinct. To use the vote receipts, they must be added up so as to reflect the collective act. In other words, they must be gathered, read and tallied similarly as the ballots were in the manual system. The practical question is, how do you do that?
The idea of vote receipts is catching on with the public. They probably think it will help ensure accuracy of the election results. But how that can be done is a big question. If it cannot be done, then the public should not be given false hopes and the vote receipts approach should not be allowed to detract from the development of workable solutions.