Part 6 (last of a series)
UNLESS there are logical arguments supporting the other election technologies, it is easy to conclude from the first five parts of this series of articles, that the “most appropriate” choice for Philippine elections is the hybrid system.
To review, in the hybrid system, precinct counting is manual, while transmission of election returns (ERs) is electronic, and city/municipal, provincial, and national canvassing are automated. This system is more accurate, more transparent, less costly, and least vulnerable to cheating–yet will only take a few hours longer than the fastest election technology that’s currently available.
How does it work?
In its simplest form, here’s the step-by-step procedure:
1. Voters fill up standard ballots by writing the names of their choices on the blanks provided. (As many as can be accommodated in the precincts, can vote simultaneously.) They then drop their ballots inside the ballot boxes in the precincts.
2. At the end of the voting period, the votes for each candidate are counted (this may take a few hours) and the election returns, or ER (the results of the counting), is prepared.
3. The ER is encoded using an ordinary PC or laptop. Accuracy is verified and once accomplished, the board of election inspectors (BEI) signs off on the printed copies. The soft copy of the ER is electronically transmitted and the hard copy transported to the city/municipal board of canvassers (C/MBOC).
4. At the C/MBOC, the votes garnered by each candidate from all the precincts in the city or municipality, will be consolidated. The certificate of canvass (COC) will then be printedandsigned, the soft copy electronically transmitted, and the hard copy transported to the provincial board of canvassers (PBOC). Based on the consolidated counts, the winning candidates for mayor, vice-mayor, and councilors can be proclaimed.
5. At the PBOC, the votes garnered by each candidate from all the cities/municipalities in the province, will be consolidated. The provincial COC will then be printed and signed, the soft copy electronically transmitted and the hard copy transported to the national board of canvassers (NBOC). Based on the consolidated counts, the winning candidates for governor, vice governor, and members of the provincial board can be proclaimed.
6. At the NBOC—which is Congress for the president and vice-president, and the COMELEC (Commission on Elections), for senators and party-list–the votes garnered by each candidate from all the provinces, will be consolidated. The National COC will be printed and signed. Based on the consolidated counts, the winning candidates for president, vice-president, senators, and party-list can be proclaimed.
Steps 4, 5, and 6 are actually the same no matter which election technology is chosen. This is the reason why in the United States, for example, each county can procure its own choice of machine, or decide to count the ballots manually, for as long as they transmit the results for consolidation, in a common format.
This approach of allowing each municipality–or province-–to choose its own system can also be adopted in the Philippines and is least problematic with the hybrid system because only ordinary PCs, laptops and servers need be procured. They can be bought from suppliers in any big city, thus reducing the logistical concerns of the COMELEC.Technical help is also available almost everywhere.
Since only Steps 1, 2 and 3 will differ among the different election technologies, let us now concentrate on these steps and see how we can further improve on the hybrid hystem, thus setting it apart from the other solutions.
1. What if laptop counting is done simultaneously with the manual count? Every time a candidate’s name is read, one vote will be recorded in his favor in the manual tally sheet (taras), but at the same time, one vote will also be recorded in the laptop by an operator. At the end of the reading, recording, and counting, no more encoding step would be necessary.
2. What if we connect a projector to the laptop and project the results on a big screen as votes are being read, for all voters to see? The process would therefore be more transparent (rather than less, or completely lost, in the other technologies). The tally boards stapled on the walls of the precincts can therefore be eliminated. By the way, the step of recording on the tally boards is what consumes the most time in the pure manual system. Eliminating this step would probably cut the counting time by half.
3. What if we focus a camera (they’re so inexpensive now) on the ballot that the BEI chair is reading and then project the same on the big screen as well? That would again make the process more transparent and “mis-reading” of the votes by the chair can be minimized.
4. What if with every, say 20 ballots, read (and recorded), the running results that are automatically computed in the laptop, were to be transmitted to a common “media website,” wouldn’t that be more convenient for media reporting? If there were to be 100,000 precincts reporting 20 ballots periodically, each report would carry an increment of some two million ballots. Every time.
There are other ideas and new inventions that can be incorporated into the system to make the election process more transparent and more accurate. These can more easily be adopted into the hybrid system.
A final word: Especially in large-scale, ultra-sensitive projects costing billions of pesos of public money, it is a must that a thorough process of evaluating the options and choosing the “most appropriate” solution be implemented. Not to do so would be a great disservice to the Filipino people.