Philippines: Lessons Learned

Philippines Case Study

Last updated on December 17, 2013


  • The transition from manual to automated elections is a long process. The legality of electronic technologies in the Philippines’ elections was addressed over several years and through a structured, mostly-inclusive process. While there were some legal provisions criticized as inconsistent with automated elections or too ambiguous, most stakeholders agreed there is a solid legal foundation upon which to conduct automated elections.
  • The Philippines’ experience shows the benefits of conducting a careful, thorough revision of legislation well in advance of a nationwide transition to electronic technologies.



  • In-house capability is crucial for ensuring accountability of the exercise. The COMELEC faced an enormous challenge to remain in control of the relationship with the vendor, Smartmatic, particularly as Election Day approached and urgent problems arose. This was due in part to the COMELEC staff not yet building the in-house capacity to manage the vendor.
  • The accountability of the whole automation process could have been enhanced significantly, had the COMELEC properly implemented post-audit mechanisms. The Philippines planned on two different methods for auditing results – a random manual audit and the public posting of precinct-level results on the COMELEC’s website. However, both methods were not implemented sufficiently to allow for a credible check on official election results.
  • IT groups and election observation groups did not coordinate well enough to take advantage of each other’s comparative strengths, knowledge and networks. Better coordination and cooperation among civil society actors could have helped pair IT expertise with election monitoring experience and methodologies to more effective election observation efforts.
  • Oversight actors in the Philippines, including advisory bodies, media, parties and civil society, could have better trained core staff, coordinators and observers on understanding how to effectively observe based on the new technologies. They should have also better assessed and adapted their monitoring methodologies to take into account any new technologies used in elections. 


Security and Secrecy

  • Ensuring the security of electoral processes was a significant challenge during the transition to automated elections. While a range of security features were initially planned, several of these features were not implemented or did not function as planned. Several election observation groups and IT experts alleged that the range of security vulnerabilities exposed the system to possible manipulation, fraud and failure. In most cases, failure to implement planned security features was attributed to a lack of sufficient time.
  • Secrecy of the ballot, with respect to the PCOS machines, was not raised as a concern during the 2010 elections. Some critics argued voters should have been able to confirm how the machine recorded their votes by having the machine briefly flash on its screen the voters’ choices as recorded, but others contended it could have compromised secrecy.



  • While the COMELEC appeared to make a genuine attempt to be transparent during some parts of the electoral process, this was not always sufficient to meet international best practice and to gain the trust and confidence of key stakeholders. In some cases, transparency was sacrificed for expediency. In other cases, critics allege that transparency was restricted because of sensitivity to criticism during what was a very challenging transition to automated elections nationwide.
  • Most glaringly, independent observers did not have official, accredited access to any part of the process. Only one group, the PPCRV, was accredited, and most believe its independence was questionable. As a result, independent observers often had to rely on informal contacts and relationships or court appeals to gain access to information on COMELEC decisions and processes, rather than formal opportunities to observe such processes. In many instances, by the time to observer groups obtained the information or documents they sought out, it was too late. 



  • Cost considerations are a major challenge for ensuring sustainability of automated elections. Despite extensive consideration of the full costs of moving toward automation, some challenges did emerge. With the budget allotted, the COMELEC could not lease enough machines to maintain even a fraction of the number of precincts in previous elections. This led to the need to cluster precincts, which was cited as a major cause of the long lines on Election Day. 
  • Several people interviewed emphasized how much more complex and challenging the automated elections were to conduct compared to manual elections. They noted that electronic technologies should not be seen as a way to address capacity shortcomings in managing elections – they may magnify those shortcomings. The 2010 experience showed the challenges of implementing electronic technologies without having enough leadership and staff with IT expertise and experience, as well as a high degree of project management capacity. 



  • Early engagement is critical for building trust among stakeholders. During the consideration of different technologies and, later, the procurement process, an antagonistic relationship developed between the COMELEC and some civil society and IT groups who felt they were excluded from the process.
  • Several interviewees noted that, at times, inclusiveness was sacrificed, at least in part due to the shortened timeframe for implementing the 2010 elections.
  • The 2010 voter education efforts were able to inform a significant percentage of voters, which was a notable accomplishment. However, it was not conducted in a strategic, research-informed way, which meant those most in need of information and hardest to reach often did not receive sufficient information.



  • The COMELEC faced a significant challenge in building trust in the election processes. Following the elections, however, overall trust and satisfaction with the elections increased significantly. Many attributed this boost in trust as a result of the speediness of the results and the absence of reported widespread Election Day failures. The fact that more than 90 percent of precinct results were reported on election night was viewed as a significant achievement, and the presidential election results reflected the exit polls almost exactly. These factors helped bolster voter trust and mitigated the potential for post-election violence.
  • However, the lack of transparency of certain aspects of the process reduced trust among election observation groups and IT experts, as well as some parties and candidates.
  • Several interviewees noted the increased trust in 2010 was partially due to the novelty and pride associated with the Philippines conducting the first nationwide automated elections and the wide margin of victory in the presidential race, which mitigated potential complaints. They cautioned that this trust may not be sustained unless significant efforts are made to address problems and security vulnerabilities before the next major elections in 2013.



Implementing and Overseeing Electronic Voting and Counting Technologies: Resources


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