11-hour voting period not enough, studies predict
by Ryan Chua
MANILA, Philippines – She has poor eyesight and difficulty reading, but 80-year-old Rosalinda Meneses made sure she was able to fill up her ballot completely.
She took more than 10 minutes to finish — no big deal, because she was just at the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) public simulation of the voting process held on December last year.
If voters take that long or longer to fill up the ballot on Election Day, however, many may not able to vote. Time and motion studies by two separate groups show that the 11-hour voting period set by the Comelec is not even enough to accommodate all voters, assuming a high voter turnout.
A maximum of 1,000 voters are expected to troop to each polling center composed of seven precincts clustered into one.
Giovanni Tapang of the University of the Philippines’ National Institute of Physics used a software called “Simulation in Python,” which simulates a queue of voters undergoing various procedures on Election Day. The program then computes how long all the processes take, from finding one’s name in the list of voters to filling up ballots to casting votes.
“Assuming all the other procedures are fast, you only have nine minutes to fill up the ballot. If you exceed nine minutes, you’re actually holding up the line,” he said.
Based on his findings, Tapang, who is also a convenor of the poll watchdog Kontra Daya, said the minimum arrival rate should be at least 95 voters an hour to reach 1,000 at the end of voting at 6 pm. In order to accommodate all 1,000 voters, each voter should take no more than 15 minutes to search for his or her name in the voters’ list.
The chairman of the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI), meanwhile, should take only 40 seconds or less to verify a voter’s identity, give him or her the ballot, instruct him or her on filling it up, and give him or her the ballot secrecy folder.
After voting, a voter has to insert the ballot into the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machine and then return to the BEI to have his finger marked with indelible ink. All these should take less than three minutes, Tapang said.
But Tapang believes these may hardly happen in reality.
For instance, he cited the difficult task of the BEI chair.
“[The BEI chair] has to maintain the 40-second limit throughout the day. No CR breaks, no meals, no rest,” Tapang said in a phone interview. “It cannot happen.”
Because of this alone, massive voter disenfranchisement is possible, he said.
He added, though, that voters can generally meet the 9-minute maximum — even faster, another study reveals.
More voting stations
Conducted in September and October 2009, YouthVote Philippines’ time and motion studies show that voters take an average of 6 to 8 minutes to fill up the ballot.
The study was first conducted in Batangas involving 658 participants, then in Nueva Ecija with 544. Each setting simulated Election Day procedures, but the main focus was the length of time each voter took to answer the ballot.
The average in Batangas was 8 minutes; in Nueva Ecija, 6 minutes.
In its report, the group said participants generally found the new voting process easy. However, it said the length of the voting period is not enough.
“Definitely it will be tight to be able to complete all 1,000 voters in the 11-hour period, especially with the pre-voting requirements,” said YouthVote member Paola Deles.
The group thus recommended that at least 24 voting booths be set up in each room of the clustered precinct — higher than the minimum 10 set by the Comelec.
In a phone interview, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said up to 25 voting booths may be set up per precinct, but that it depends on the precinct’s capacity.
“It depends on the size of the precinct,” he said. “If the precinct is small, we may not be able to accommodate all.”
He added that the commission will ask its Election and Barangay Affairs Department to revisit the polling places and decide if adding more stations is feasible.
Meanwhile, in a press briefing, Comelec Chairman Jose Melo said that based on the commission’s own time and motion study, the 11-hour voting period is actually enough. Jimenez said those saying otherwise should present their findings to the Comelec.
“We would like to ask them, first of all, to explain to us the parameters of their computer model,” he said, referring to Kontra Daya’s latest study. “At this point, we stand by our own estimates, which we did not establish in a vacuum. And we remain confident.”
Should there still be voters beyond 6 p.m., Melo said that according to the General Instructions, they would still be accommodated as long as they are lined up within 30 meters from the polling center.
In the end, the poll body chair believes the solution lies on the voters.
“We cannot control everybody,” he said. “We advise voters to go to their polling places early. Don’t wait for the last hour.”