Comelec to test online voting with US tech firm Voatz

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 8) — The Commission on Elections is rolling out a simulation of online voting on Saturday. It is being eyed as a new platform for Filipinos abroad for the 2025 polls.

The trial would be hosted by American firm Voatz. Up to 671 volunteers are expected to try either the mobile app or web-based voting from 8 a.m. of Sept. 11 until 8 a.m. of Sept. 13.

Canvassing of votes is scheduled two hours after the closing of the voting period, according to Comelec’s Office for Overseas Voting (OFOV).

Election system providers Indra Sistemas and Smartmatic—which has provided the country an automated election system and machines since 2010—will be also hosting their own online voting test runs in the next few weeks.

“There are three things that are major considerations for me as a decision-maker. One is security, two is the access of voters, and three is the cost," Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon said during Wednesday’s kickoff event. "If we are satisfied in OFOV, we can recommend this to the commission en banc and of course, Congress."

“It’s impossible to use this in 2022. That’s why we're testing it now, so we have a three-year preparation time… We are open to all possible methods that can widen access for our voters,” she added.

A 2020 study by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology flagged security concerns about the proprietary app of Voatz, saying it has “vulnerabilities that allow different kinds of adversaries to alter, stop, or expose a user’s vote.”

But the private firm based in Boston said their system has been used in five states and has been tapped for absentee voting in the United States.

Voatz officials said voters may cast their online ballots either through the company’s app or through a web browser using a unique link provided to them.

Voatz CEO and co-founder Nimit Sawhney said the mobile app can only be used by one voter as part of cybersecurity measures, which will be verified and linked to a mobile number.

The app would only work in smartphones running on operating systems Android 8.0 or newer, iOS 12.4 or newer, and iPad 3 or later gadget versions. The app does not work on Android tablets or in jailbroken gadgets. Those who cannot access the app may use a web browser to vote. 

Volunteers will be asked to provide their full name, date of birth, sex, photo, email address, mobile number, and place of registration prior to the simulation. They will be asked to verify their identity by presenting photos of their passport and a selfie video through a live webcam before access to the electronic ballot is granted.

They will receive a “participation receipt” through email, which would indicate their chosen candidates in their ballot.

The result of the trial run will be the basis of recommendations to Congress if online voting should be adopted.

Guanzon said a new law is needed to include online voting as an option for Filipinos. Currently, Filipinos abroad cast their ballots by personal appearance before Philippine consulates and embassies or by mail-in voting, where they pay for the return postal fees.

“The voter has to buy a stamp, so it discourages them from voting,” Guanzon added.