Manual counting of votes ill advised

Published by rudy Date posted on April 21, 2010

Former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban on Tuesday said that it would be difficult to adopt a recommendation of Information Technology (IT) professionals and the business community to manually count the ballots to be cast through automated machines on May 10 since there are no rules covering the proposal.

“The proposal to manually count automated votes poses several problems since there are no rules in counting manually automated ballots,” Panganiban explained during a joint membership meeting of the Makati Business Club (MBC) and the Management Association of the Philippines.

The groups suggested that once there is a discrepancy of more than 1 percent between the numbers of votes counted through the machines and those initially manually counted per precinct, a manual recount of all votes cast for all positions should be done.

Panganiban said that if there is more than 1-percent discrepancy between the results, coming up with a decision will take some more time because it will have to be resolved by Commission on Elections (Comelec) and then the Supreme Court.

Christian Monsod, former Comelec commissioner from 1991 to 1995, said in case of a difference in the results, the manual count should prevail.

“The manual count is the more accurate count. There is a principle in law that you always have to look into the intent of the voter. If a voter only shades about 10 percent of the circle [of the ballots for automated voting], that will not be caught [by the automated election machine],” Monsod noted.

The Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines will be used by the Comelec for the automation of the May 10 polls.

Monsod said that the Comelec should not sacrifice accuracy for speed to ensure the credibility of the elections.

“It may take longer than the original target of the Comelec of 48 hours to proclaim the winners, but even if this takes one week more, that will still be [a] historic achievement and will be more accepted by the people as credible,” he added.

Ramon del Rosario, MBC chairman, said that the Comelec has approved putting up projectors and other equipment in 1,637 municipal canvassing centers so that more people could observe the counting, thus making the process transparent.

The Makati Business Club has joined the call of IT professionals for the Comelec to manually count the votes for the positions of president, vice president and mayor to serve as back-up if the automated system bogs down on May 10.

The Comelec has at least two more weeks to print out additional statement of vote (SOV) forms to facilitate manual counting.

Lawyers’ group worried

Meanwhile, the oldest voluntary national organization of lawyers also on Tuesday expressed concern that the Comelec lacks preparations for the May 10 automated polls.

In a statement, the Philippine Bar Association (PBA) cited lack of independent source code review, delayed printing of official ballots, malfunctioning PCOS machines and controversies surrounding public bidding for the supply of indelible ink and ballot secrecy folders.

On top of that, PBA president and lawyer Simeon Marcelo said that use of unreliable logistics firms and lack of transparency in the canvassing of votes, contingency and continuity plans, effective voters’ education campaign and legal framework in case of failure of elections threaten to undermine the May 10 polls.

Marcelo added that the Comelec should have followed the advice of several election watchdogs and business groups to also conduct a manual count to ensure trustworthy results of the polls on May 10.

The Comelec earlier warned that undermining the credibility of an election is a poll offense.

“The PBA believes that the issues raised by various concerned quarters go into the core of the Comelec’s constitutional mandate to ensure the conduct of free, peaceful, fair and credible elections,” Marcelo said.

Watchdog hits Comelec

One of the election watchdogs that is proposing a parallel manual count is the Compact for Peace and Democratic Elections (Compact), an alliance of non-government organizations and civil-society groups, which have criticized the Comelec’s “negligent” attitude in disabling several vote verification mechanisms of the PCOS machines.

According to a Compact convenor, lawyer Al Vitangcol 3rd, a parallel manual count should be implemented since disabling the digital signatures and other vote verification mechanisms of the PCOS machines already compromised the integrity of the May 10 elections.

“It is close to impossible for the Comelec [to] reconfigure the machine to activate the security features and ensure the ‘digital paper trail’ of all election results,” Vitangcol, also an information technology specialist, said.

He explained that the digital signature, a security marking unique to each machine, would accompany the results that machines will transmit to the Computerized Canvassing System. The Comelec did not activate this function, which effectively leaves the poll authority no mechanism to verify the validity of results being gathered and stored.

“We’re in the worst possible scenario by which people cannot even tell if the machines counted their vote right, or if the results the machines are storing are authentic to begin with,” Vitangcol said. –KRISTA ANGELA M. MONTEALEGRE Reporter, with reports from Frank Lloyd Tiongson and Ruben D. Manahan 4th, Manila Times

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