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Digital tech boost to vote security

Philippine Daily Inquirer

Smart Communications Inc. has installed an extender in an elementary school on a remote Cebu island to boost and amplify the GSM signal during the elections. This will enable data from the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines to be transmitted in the shortest and fastest way via the Internet.

The extender is installed in two voting precinct clusters with a voting population of 1,384 at Doong Elementary School, located on an island seven nautical miles and an hour away by boat from Bantayan Island in northeastern Cebu.

Digital wireless technology will allow the teachers serving in the elections in the remotest islands to avoid the risks of physically transporting election returns (ERs) by sea in bad weather. The extender can even cut their working time by half.

Josephine Sanz, a teacher at Doong, said an extender would ensure reliable and fool-proof Internet connection. She recalled that during the 2010 elections, as she and her colleagues were about to transmit the ERs, they lost the signal and had to physically deliver the compact flash cards to Bantayan.

Her coteacher Edgardo Baruc, who has been doing poll duty since 1992, recalled his own harrowing experience a few years ago. Battered by strong waves, the boat transporting election paraphernalia to Doong capsized. Baruc had to open the ballot boxes in order to save the forms, while keeping his head above water. A Coast Guard team came to the rescue, alerted by local police via a two-way handheld radio. The ballots had to be hung out to dry, pushing the elections to later in the day.

Baruc once had to hold on to the ballot boxes for 10 hours while waiting for high tide after the Bantay Dagat boat carrying him and other election inspectors, police officers and vigilant locals struck a shallow reef off Doong. It was nearly midnight when the boat carrying transmittal forms and ERs left Doong.

Internet transmission of election results also means shortening the lengthy election process, shielding the system from possible devious schemes.

“The shorter the process, the more reassuring for us that we get results from clean and honest elections,” said Father Isaias Gerali Jr., Doong’s parish priest who advocates values formation and cautions parishioners to be more vigilant than ever. “We should be watchful always as cheating might happen elsewhere.”

Smart’s partnership with Doong Elementary School began in September 1996, when it established online presence for and provided Internet access to the school’s students, in addition to a content-driven component and training programs for its teachers.

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