While we are still almost three years away from the 2019 elections, it is, in fact, the best time to start planning for it.There are very valid reasons why it has to be started this early. Many observers, IT practitioners, mostly, have been commenting that the system used in 2010, 2013, and 2016 – i.e., Smartmatic’s Precinct Count Optical Scan, or PCOS – while fast, did not, however, meet the required accuracy level, was definitely not transparent, and was very vulnerable to tampering by an insider. All these have been proven to be true.
These failures could all be traced to the fact that the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), quite apparently, did not go through the standard project analysis and cost/benefits study before deciding on the system to be used in all three elections. This important step is a must, especially for major projects costing billions of pesos.
After the 2010 elections, the Chairman of the COMELEC Advisory Council (CAC) said in his report that we should not use PCOS again. The then Chairman of the Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms in the Lower House, said in his report that if the loopholes in the PCOS are not plugged, “… a reversion to manual elections with heightened vigilance by organizations like PPCRV and NAMFREL would probably yield more credible and accurate results”. Why Smartmatic continued to win the contracts is something that we fail to understand. Private companies would have given them the boot long ago.
It is feared that if nothing different is done this time around, then the same decisions would be made by COMELEC; the same doubts, from those in the know, on the system’s unreliability would be generated, the same wasteful spending would occur.
This writer proposes to undertake this study, together with the public … and, hopefully, with the COMELEC as well, if it will so agree to participate. Through a series of articles in this paper, this writer will present to the readers the different aspects about elections and the options that we could take, in order to arrive at the “most appropriate” automated system for our elections, as required by law. Contributions to the discussion would of course be appreciated.
We will begin by reviewing the old, pure manual system, then discuss its defects, problems, and pitfalls. After that, we will scan the environment for automation election tools that are currently available, discuss the pros and cons of each, and then proceed to designing and formulating a workable system.
The pure manual elections
The pure manual elections (no automated component at all) that we used from our very first election in the 1940s up to 2007 followed a very simple system that required no training of voters at all. Common sense and the ability to read and write were almost all one needed. Those who cannot read and write and those with disabilities were allowed to be assisted by a close relative. Even the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) hardly needed any training; most of them only received written instructions that would come with the usual election paraphernalia distributed to them a few days before the elections.Here’s how the system works:
Precinct voting and counting
The BEIs man a precinct each. A BEI is composed of three teachers, one of whom is assigned as Chairman and the other two as poll clerks. Approximately 200 voters (maximum of 250) are registered under each precinct. When this system was last used in 2007, there were a little more than 200,000 precincts that opened nationwide.
The election process consists of stages – the voting period, the vote-counting, the transport of the ballots and results of counting, referred to as Election Returns (ERs), and the three-level canvassing – municipal, provincial, and national consolidation of votes.
The voting period would start at 7:00 AM and close at 3:00 PM. The BEI, however, would start working as early as 5:00 AM in order to prepare the classroom and the election materials for the voters’ registration and actual voting. As many as 15-20 voters would usually be allowed to vote simultaneously or as many as could be comfortably accommodated inside the classroom. Even as the voting closes at 3:00 PM, all voters making up a queue of up to 30 meters long, would still be allowed to vote.
After a brief rest following the close of the voting period, the BEI would start counting the votes. The first step would be for the Chairman to count all the ballots inside the ballot box. Once done and the count recorded, the Chairman would start reading off aloud, the candidates’ names written on each ballot. One of the members would record the votes into the Election Returns using “taras” (or sticks), while the third member would record the same votes into the Tally Boards that are taped or stapled to the walls of the classroom.
When all the votes have been read and recorded, the BEI would then add up the total votes garnered by each candidate in both the Election Returns and the Tally Boards, making sure that both reports have the same totals. The BEI would then complete the Minutes of the proceedings, sign all the forms, then pack the documents for transport to the canvassing center.
The BEIs of the precints in a polling center (usually, a school) would normally share a jeepney, or jeepneys, when transporting the ballot boxes and other documents to the city/municipal canvassing center. It is also safer for them to wait for each other, as most of them would finish the counting in the very early hours of the following day.
(The next installment, which will come out three weeks from now,will discuss the canvassing process and the problems associated with the pure manual system.)