Manual parallel count unnecessary—Comelec

Manual parallel count unnecessary—Comelec
By Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer

WITH 15 DAYS to go before the country embarks on its first automated polls, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) declared the parallel manual count pushed by certain sectors as unnecessary and assured the public that all safeguards were in place for credible, accurate and swift voting on May 10.

“We are working 24/7 now. It’s crunch time already,” Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said Saturday in a media briefing.

“This is the last two minutes of the preparations for the elections. Almost all Filipinos want the elections to succeed. The goal of the Comelec is to have credible elections. We will not allow [anyone] to thwart the conduct of elections on May 10,” Larrazabal said.

The technical working group is to submit its recommendations on a random manual audit to the Comelec tomorrow, completing one of the legal loose ends in the counting phase, he said.

Asked if the poll body had rejected the proposals of groups like the Makati Business Club and a loose coalition of information technology professionals to conduct a partial parallel manual count of the votes, Larrazabal and Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said a random manual audit would do the job.

A parallel manual count entails a manual recount of the ballots in all 76,300 precincts nationwide for only three elective posts—president, vice president, and mayors.

Under a random manual audit, the ballots for all positions in randomly selected 1,110 precincts nationwide will be counted.

Specified by law

A random manual audit, which is provided for in the Automated Elections Law, will ensure that the results transmitted by the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines are credible and accurate.

“The law specifies this type of automated election. Before, there were many complaints against manual elections, so we went with automated elections. Now that we’re automated, they’re saying, ‘Let’s go manual,” Larrazabal observed.

A random manual audit means the Comelec randomly will choose 5 PCOS machines from 5 precincts in each of the 222 legislative district to compare the manual results with the results reflected in the ER.

Last Friday, or two days before the April 25 deadline, the Comelec and its elections supplier, Smartmatic TIM Corp., completed the printing of 50.7 million machine-readable ballots for the computerized balloting for national and local posts.

On Saturday, the Comelec and Smartmatic TIM began the delivery of the voting machines, ballots, and ballot boxes to the regions.

On May 10, an estimated 50 million Filipinos will cast their votes for president and other posts using machine-readable ballots.

The ballots will be fed into the PCOS machines, which will record and count the marks on the ballots.

At the end of Election Day, the machines will automatically count the votes, print the results, and transmit these to the canvassing centers.

Counting at the canvassing centers will be done electronically.

Delay in proclamation

The Comelec said it expected results in local contests in less than 24 hours. Official tallies for national posts will be done in two days, a far cry from the old system that took more than a month to complete.

Proponents of the parallel manual count said it would guarantee the accuracy of the tallies computed and transmitted by the PCOS machines.

They said it would also prove that there were no malicious bugs in the PCOS software that could manipulate the election results.

But Jimenez said the parallel manual count had been “already considered” by the Comelec and did not guarantee a total and accurate reflection of the votes cast.

“The purpose of automation is to get accurate immediate results,” he said. “The parallel manual count is essentially just a regular manual election. And remember, every time we had manual elections, there were jitters that we won’t be able to finish [the count] by June 30.”

Jimenez also said the manual count scheme had many “ramifications” on the conduct of the automated polls and was “not a simple matter,” as argued by its proponents.

“Just because we are good at arguing for it does not mean the Comelec would immediately follow it. The parallel manual count should be studied. It has logistical, cost, and personnel implications,” he said, adding that it would also delay the proclamation of winners.

Larrazabal said the parallel manual count was similar to the Open Election System proposed by IT expert Gus Lagman in 2009, which the Comelec studied and rejected. (Lagman is one of the proponents of the parallel count.)

Comelec officials also stressed that the count of the PCOS machines could be audited. Larrazabal said the machines would generate a paper trail immediately after the end of the voting, which could be used in a comparison with the transmitted tallies.

‘Why only now?’

Larrazabal and Jimenez questioned the timing of the concerns raised by some civil society groups.

Jimenez said the Comelec’s critics had years to raise their fears.

“Why only now?” he said. “Is it to cause a disruption of the proceedings, to torpedo the elections?”

Jimenez also raised the possibility that the Comelec’s critics were setting the scene to question the credibility of the results.

Gary Olivar, a deputy spokesperson of President Macapagal-Arroyo, said a parallel manual count would “set us up for a very contentious outcome” of the elections.

“I will side with the Comelec on this one… Because the Comelec is the institution that is authorized and knowledgeable on this aspect, we will support [its] position on this,” Olivar said in a radio interview.

He said a parallel manual count would violate the law that requires the election process to be automated and might undermine the credibility and integrity of the process.

“What if the two counting systems came up with different outcomes, and the law says the automated count should prevail? he said.

Olivar dismissed doubts on the credibility of automated polls, saying the Comelec had “already done well, going beyond the requirements of the law by instituting the higher sample of voting units for a random manual audit.”

Target completion date

Smartmatic Asia president Cesar Flores said the company’s target was to complete delivery of key election materials and equipment by May 3.

“From now on, every day, there will be ballots leaving for different regions until May 3, when the ballots for the NCR [National Capital Region] will leave the warehouse. It’s going to be 100,000 different movements and operations,” he said.

Flores said Smartmatic TIM would track the ballots, PCOS machines, and ballot boxes until they reach the local offices.

Yesterday, ballots for 5,000 precincts in Lanao del Sur, Zambonga, Zamboanga Sibugay, Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, and Bukidnon were delivered.

The PCOS machines and ballot boxes will be sent to the precincts a week or so before the elections for testing and sealing.

Under the law, the tests are scheduled 3-7 days before the elections. With a report from Gil Cabacungan

Karen Ang

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