IT was back to manual. The automated election system (AES) was not used in the Barangay and Sanguniang Kabataan Elections (BSKE) held more than a week ago. The voting, counting, and consolidation of votes were all done manually. Results transmission was not required.

The assessment: the BSKE was generally peaceful.

As part of its preparations, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) conducted a simulation exercise. Certain scenarios were addressed to come up with remedies to certain incidents. Special attention focused on the two elections: the election of barangay officials and the election of the members of the Sanguniang Kabataan. Voters aged 18 to 30 were to be given two ballots. It was foreseen that it would be easy to commit a mistake and switch the two ballots. The remedy—if somehow the ballots were interchanged, the votes would still be counted. After all, a voter’s vote is sacred.

Teams of PNP personnel also received training, ready to take over operations at the precincts. And, indeed, they took over precincts where they were needed to act as the Board of Election Tellers.

The poll body had set up a command center where representatives from various government agencies, citizens arms, the Philippine National Police, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines were gathered. The conduct of the elections was closely monitored. Incident reports were carefully vetted and resolved as necessary.

Voting in most parts of the country started on time. The usual problem of voters looking for their precinct assignments was observed. Incidents of names missing from the lists were also reported but were quickly resolved. The first two or three hours of voting were particular hard for senior citizen voters. Some of them had to go up three or four flights of stairs to their assigned precincts. But by 9 a.m. or 10 a.m., arriving senior citizen, PWD, and pregnant women voters were directed to a special area where they were told they could vote. Still leaves much to be desired, but everything went well.

There were reports of vote buying. In at least one incident, the perpetrator was caught.

There was talk of unfamiliar faces entering our barangay hall. The unfamiliar faces would shortly emerge, each clutching a small piece of paper. It was reported by watchers that the piece of paper had the name, precinct assignment, and sequence number of a voter in the list. The said voter, without saying a word, would present the piece of paper to the BET. But watchers had challenged the voters to produce an identification card, preferably a Voter’s ID if he had one. The voters would simply leave, only to return with certificates of registration from the local Comelec office. In one instance, a voter was challenged. The voter had a voter’s name with age of 22. The watcher swears that the voter appeared much older. But since the voter had a certificate of voter registration and claimed there was an error in the registration record, he was allowed to vote.

News media bannered a report a few weeks before the BSKE that a good number of voters in a barangay at the Pasay Rotonda had put down the LRT station as their address.

Election related violence were also reported. The Comelec tallied about 36 killed during the election period.

After the close of polls and after rearranging the voting precinct and taking a bit of rest, the BET proceeded to count the votes. Counting went well into the night. But by 6 p.m. the following day, 41,745, or 99.53 percent of 41,943 barangays nationwide, had completed the counting and consolidation.

The focus now shifts to the poll body’s preparations for the 2019 midterm elections. The Comelec had actually started its preparations for the 2019 elections much earlier, exercising its option to purchase the Smartmatic vote counting machines (VCMs) used in 2016. With the shift in focus, the Comelec will soon reopen the registration for those qualified to vote in the 2019 exercise.

The poll body had gone out of its way in previous voter registration exercises to bring registration closer to the citizenry by setting up satellite voter registration centers. Perhaps the Comelec can conduct a review of the lists of voters by focusing on addresses with an unusually high number of voters. The Comelec can work in partnership with citizens’ arms to check out the voters listed in those addresses.

The Comelec should also revisit the voter identification system project and implement the same for the 2019 elections to ensure that only qualified voters are able to vote on election day.

A review of the management of the automated election system (AES) in 2016 may prove instructive. The implementation of the controversial script change in the middle of live operations of the AES can and must be avoided. No information technology manager in his right mind will allow such a thing to happen. The poll body should exercise full transparency in its preparations. While certain issues like the 25 percent mark threshold and the squares on the ballot image to indicate which marks passed the threshold were disclosed during the source code review, the disclosure was made only among a small number of reviewers. How the VCMs are configured and how the network, including the use of queue servers, is set up must be fully disclosed.

The 2019 midterm elections is less than year away. The public will be watching.