Voting populations improbably high, Numbers don’t add up

Voting populations improbably high, Numbers don’t add up
By Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—The numbers don’t add up.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) recently revealed that there were around 700,000 double or multiple registrants on the national voters’ list.

But poll watchdogs and a statistician said the number could be higher, citing population figures from 2007 and the Comelec’s registration numbers as of March 2009.

In particular, the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) and a census expert cited the “unrealistic figures” for population and registrants in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), considered to be the country’s cheating capital.

The ARMM, composed of the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, Maguindanao and Sulu, has a registered voting population of 1.6 million as of early 2009, according to the Comelec.

Its population, based on the 2007 census, was 4.1 million. The region has 117 municipalities and 2,486 barangays (villages).

Census data showed that the ARMM population growth rate was 5.4 percent, more than double the national average of 2 percent.

Not realistic

Redencion Ignacio, head of the census department at the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB), said the ARMM figures were unrealistic. “The growth rate of the region overall is 5 percent. It’s not realistic,” she said.

The numbers have caused so much confusion among government data gatherers that a technical committee is studying whether to accept the numbers as valid or not, Ignacio said.

He said there were reports that local ARMM officials had ordered former residents to come back to the region for the census. There were also reports of intimidation and harassment of census takers in the region, poll watchdogs said.

Asked if the census takers, who were teachers, were ordered to inflate the numbers, Ignacio said it was anybody’s guess.

Election observers said ARMM officials sought to increase the region’s population so that they could carve out new districts, which means higher local budget allocations.

Ghost barangays

Namfrel’s vice president for membership Damaso Magbual said he was not surprised by the questionable numbers from the ARMM.

In 1984, the group found “ghost barangays” in Lanao del Sur. “They didn’t exist, but they had voters’ lists and precincts,” Magbual said.

He said he obtained the voters’ list for Pasig City in 2004 and found out, through house calls, that there were many fictitious voters on the registry.

Magbual said the fraud was easy to do: Census takers often list households using fictitious house numbers on a very real street.

Some inflate the number of members in a household. “The list said there were 18 voters in the house and then you go there and see a very small house,” he said.

If past elections had fictitious barangays, the 2010 automated polls could give rise to ghost precincts, another poll observer said.

Ghost precincts

Ramon Casiple, chair of the Consortium of Electoral Reforms, said the May 10 elections could give rise to “ghost precincts,” which would be more sinister.

Casiple said an “unscrupulous” election officer or an election operative could collect all the fraudulent names in one precinct and hoard the ballots for it.

Those who want to manipulate the results of the polls can shade the ballots in favor of their candidates and feed them into the machines.

“The machine has no capability to recognize this fraud. When the reporting comes, these ballots will be included in the counting,” Casiple said.

More dangerous

Casiple said this was more dangerous than “flying voters” or “dagdag-bawas” (vote-padding and vote-shaving) as it would be difficult to detect and trace the fraudulent entries in the machines.

Aside from population numbers, Namfrel also analyzed the number of registered voters based on the Comelec’s count as of March 2009, before the deadline for registration expired last October. [The registration was extended.]

Paralleling the sharp spike in population growth was the increase in number of registered voters in the ARMM, which enjoyed double-digit jump in 2009, Namfrel said.

Lanao del Sur’s voting population grew by 16 percent to 459,012 in 2009 from 396,722 in 2007; Sulu by 12 percent to 280,257 from 250,571; Tawi-Tawi by 11 percent to 156,027 from 140,232; and Basilan by 8 percent to 195,845 from 181,445.

Maguindanao recorded the biggest increase at 78 percent, from 336,774 to 601,057.

That all five provinces in the ARMM enjoyed robust increase in voting populations was peculiar, if compared with the region’s past data.

Comparing the 2000 and 2004, figures, Basilan and Maguindanao saw declines in the number of registered voters, at -14.5 percent and -15 percent, respectively. The other provinces experienced single-digit growths, the highest at 7.9 percent.

Namfrel also noted that the data on population growth and registered voters from various government institutions did not jive, leading to “absurd” findings.

Improbable ratios

A comparison of numbers—actual and projected—from the National Statistics Office, the NSCB and the Comelec shows “improbable” ratio of voters and population in several provinces, Namfrel said.

In Benguet province, for instance, the number of registered voters on the Comelec list was 328,010, as of March 2009.

Contrast this with the 2007 census that showed Benguet’s population at 372,533. As a result, the registered voters accounted for 88 percent of the total population.

Even if the population was adjusted to the 2009 level using NSCB’s projected growth rate of 1.9 percent, the percentage of adults was still a high 83 percent, way above the national average.

High voting population

Based on data from these sources, Namfrel identified other provinces with very high voting populations vis-à-vis their total populations. These are Lanao del Norte (87 percent), Misamis Oriental (87 percent), South Cotabato (83 percent), Zamboanga del Sur (96 percent), and Cebu (86 percent).

Namfrel said the average percentage of registered voters against population was 51 percent, “and it ranges from a low of 45 percent to a high of 60 percent for the different provinces.”

Thus, these data, Namfrel said, should ring alarm bells in the Comelec.

“Unless there are convincing and fool-proof explanations for these high numbers it is very likely that the data on the provinces mentioned above are suspect as erroneous,” it said.

Release voters’ registry

In a report card on the Comelec’s preparations for the country’s first automated elections, Namfrel said the improbabilities, when not corrected or acted upon promptly, could become grounds for disqualifying a candidate or even challenge a declaration of a conduct of truly fair and free elections.

Namfrel and other groups urged the poll body to release the computerized voters’ list as soon as possible so that they could check for multiple and double registrants before the precincts open on May 10.

The Comelec said the voters’ registry would be completed by the end of the month.

Karen Ang

A plebeian who is trying to make small changes in this world.