Registered voters must be able to exercise the right to vote freely and each ballot must be counted.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) encourages citizens qualified to vote to register or to update their registration records by having their biometrics – photo, signature, and fingerprints – captured and recorded electronically. Comelec launched its “No Bio, No Boto” campaign. The campaign slogan simply means that if a citizen who is already a registered voter but does not submit to biometrics collection, he cannot exercise his right to vote. The basis of this campaign is the Mandatory Biometrics Registration Law. The biometrics registration period ended last October 31, 2015. The Comelec estimates that there are still about 2.5 million to 3 million registered voters without biometrics data. In fairness to Comelec, the 2.5 million to 3 million registered voters without biometrics data may include voters who had passed on to the next life, double registrants, or voters who have moved to another jurisdiction but opted to file a new registration instead of applying for transfer of registration. Still, this is a big number. Come election day, these voters will not be allowed to vote.
Is the “No Bio, No Boto” a form of disenfranchisement sanctioned by law?And what about the biometrics data of registered voters that have been inadvertently destroyed or corrupted? Will these voters be allowed to vote in the 2016 Presidential Elections?
PCOS machine ballot rejection is perhaps another form of voter disenfranchisement. Some voters in the 2010 and 2013 elections complained that the PCOS machine had rejected their ballots for no apparent reason. After having been cleared by the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) and after the BEI Chairman issued the voter his ballot, the PCOS machine would refuse to take in his ballot. In Information Technology Industry practice, ballot rejection by the PCOS machine for no apparent reason may be regarded as an exception condition for which an exception handling process may be put in place. There was no exception handling process instituted in the last two elections. The PCOS machine rejected ballots were simply set aside.
Unfortunately, data on how many voters were deprived of their right to vote by the PCOS machine in the last two elections is not available. The Comelec has to address PCOS machine ballot rejection for the 2016 Presidential Elections and ensure that each ballot is counted. Will the Comelec implement an exception handling process that will allow the counting of votes from ballots that have been rejected by the PCOS machine and incorporate the results of the count with the PCOS count? The voting public will have to wait and see if the Comelec will do anything to correct this deficiency.
A new form of disenfranchisement of voters arose from the failure of some PCOS machines to transmit the precinct election results. Some would argue that the failure to transmit results does not fall within the definition of disenfranchisement since the affected voters were able to cast their votes and the PCOS machine had completed counting the votes. A valid argument indeed but if the precinct election results were not transmitted and not incorporated in the canvass, the affected ballots are effectively not counted. The affected voters were deprived of the full exercise of the right to vote.
The impact? Records show that in 2010, 92% of PCOS machines transmitted election returns. Deployed were 78,347 PCOS machines with an average of 667 voters per machine. This translates to 4.18 million ballots not included in the consolidation.
In 2013, 12.27 million ballots may not have been included in the consolidation because only 76% of PCOS machines successfully transmitted the election returns. There were 76,875 PCOS machines with an average 665 voters each. Comelec officials are quick to point out, however, that the election returns, perceived not to have been transmitted in the 2013 elections, were fully accounted for.
Is Comelec taking steps to ensure that all PCOS machines transmit election returns to the assigned city or municipal canvassing server, to the central server, and the transparency server? Comelec Chairman Andres Baustista is reportedly eyeing a transmission rate of 90%, which, he further said, is better than the transmission performance of 76% in 2013. But this is still under the 92% transmission rate in 2010. Why not shoot for100% transmission?
The transmission facility was not fully tested prior to the 2010 and 2013 elections. Neither was there any end-to-end test of the automated election system in the last two national elections. The Comelec should require a full end-to-end test of the automated election system including transmission from PCOS machines to the assigned city or municipal canvassing servers, central server, and transparency server; and through the canvassing hierarchy for the 2016 Presidential Elections with special focus in areas where the PCOS machines failed to transmit in 2010 and 2013. Comelec should also test alternative transmission devices and electronic transmission modes.
The Comelec should also exert all efforts to identify potential points of failure in the whole automated election system and devise contingency actions that may be taken.
Let’s face IT. Technology has had a profound impact on society. But the use of election and election-related technologies in Philippine elections gave birth to new forms of disenfranchisement. Comelec must take measures so that the occurrence of these new forms of disenfranchisement are minimized if not totally prevented.