WHATEVER voting and counting system the Commission on Elections (Comelec) chooses to implement for the 2016 Presidential elections there is still a need to get the election returns electronically transmitted from the voting precincts to their respective city and municipal canvassing servers (CCS) for consolidation. And, there is also a need for a consolidation and canvassing system at each city or municipality, at each province, at the Comelec, at Congress where the Senate and House of Representatives will jointly convene for the canvassing of election results for the President and Vice President. The Election Automation Law, Republic Act No. 8436 as amended by Republic Act No. 9369, requires that canvassing and consolidation be done in a ladderized manner.
Records would show that about 92% of election returns were transmitted to canvassing and transparency servers in the 2010 elections while only about 76% of election returns reached their target destinations.
Quite a few voters are aware of the contingency measures that the Boards of Election Inspectors (BEI) and Boards of Canvassers (BOC) were to take in the event of any system problems, failures, and/or shortcomings. In the 2010 and 2013 elections the Boards of Election Inspectors were supposed to take the CF Cards containing the election returns, among other electronic files, to the respective city or municipal canvassing centers for uploading to the CCS. Some election returns may have been uploaded to their respective CCS but these election returns never made it to the transparency server. Proper measures should be taken to ensure that such election returns are also transmitted to the transparency server.
The Comelec MIS Department, under the guidance of former Commissioner Gus Lagman, developed a CCS at a cost of only Six Hundred Thousand Pesos (P600,000). It makes very logical sense to use this CCS instead of relying on a proprietary system for consolidation and canvassing.
The processes of canvassing and consolidation can also be made transparent by attaching a LCD projector so that each election return received may be displayed on a screen at the canvassing center for public viewing. It will also give watchers of political parties and citizens’ arms the opportunity to compare the print out of the election returns they may have gathered from the precincts with those received by the city or municipal CCS.
The BOC, too, should be trained to annotate the consolidation and canvassing process, including the process of uploading from CF cards. In the 2010 and 2013 elections, watchers of political parties and citizens’ arms were left in the dark, specifically with the process of uploading election returns from CF cards.
I was approached by a lawyer at a seminar last March. The lawyer had keenly watched the 2010 and 2013 elections, in particular, the operations of the BOC at her municipality. She said that she did not understand what the BOC was doing. She observed that they were selecting files from a source, presumably a CF card. The purpose for which the files were being selected was unknown to observers. Was the file coming from a CF card which was transported from a precinct which had failed to electronically transmit the election returns? Were the files for inclusion in the canvassing and consolidation?
I experienced the same in Pasay City where the BOC did not explain the processes. Having waited for long hours for the transmission from some voting precincts, the BOC ordered the BEIs at voting precincts which had failed to transmit the election returns to bring the CF cards to the canvassing center. The BOC started working on uploading files from the CF Cards but the watchers of political parties and citizens’ arms were left in the dark because they did not know the process and the BOC did not explain the process.
The watchers of political parties and citizens’ arms should be similarly trained so that they are able to ask the right questions in the event that they need to.
The CCS is also set to expect 100% of election returns from the voting and counting machines within its jurisdiction. There are times, however, that for certain positions the remaining or unreceived election returns would no longer affect the final results for certain positions. The BOC may be authorized to set the threshold settings to a lower level so that the consolidation and canvassing reports may be generated for certain positions. Watchers of political parties and citizens’ arms should be informed of this process as well.
Let’s face IT. Transparency is key to credible elections. All stakeholders must be informed and, if necessary, trained on the processes involved in the canvassing and consolidation of election results as well as the contingency measures that BEIs and the BOCs may take in the event of system problems, failures, or other shortcomings.