News: Comelec rethinks manual poll count

The Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machine

ManilaTimes.net: The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Monday said that it needs more time to decide on whether it would conduct a parallel manual count for the country’s first automated elections on May 10.

It was reacting to a proposal from the elite Makati Business Club (MBC) for such count, whose implementation it said might be harder than it looked.

James Jimenez, Comelec spokesman, referred concerned groups and citizens pushing for the manual tally to logistical and administrative factors that the MBC proposal entails.

“It’s not a simple matter of just saying, ‘we want to do this and, therefore, tomorrow it will be done,’” Jimenez said.

“Hindi ito simpleng bagay lamang. Sino ba naman ang may ayaw ng karagdagang seguridad? Sino ba naman ang may ayaw ng karagdagang validation dun sa resulta? Ngunit ang problema ay ang parallel manual count ay isang masalimuot na activity na kailangan ng maraming elemento na magtutugma para siya gumana ng maayos [The manual count is not a simple matter. Who would reject tightened security for the votes? Who does not want additional validation of the results? The problem is that the parallel manual count is a labyrinthine activity that requires many elements for it to work effectively],” he added.

A factor that the Comelec has to look into, Jimenez said, is how the parallel manual count would impact on other activities of the poll body for the Philippines’ first nationwide automated polls.

The MBC proposed that members of the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) manually count the votes for the positions of president, vice president and any of these three local elective positions—governor, congressman or mayor.

The parallel manual count was proposed by the Information Technology (IT) community, which cited the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines having lost the necessary security measures such as digital signature and ultraviolet markings.

“Even if it takes one hour or three more hours and some tens of millions of pesos, it [conduct of parallel manual count] is a step well worth taking because credibility is extremely important in these elections,” MBC Chairman Ramon del Rosario said.

If the difference between the results of the manual count and the count by Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines is 1 percent or less, the BEI can immediately transmit the results. But if the difference is more than 1 percent, then, the proposal is to request full manual count for all the elective positions.

MBC Executive Director Alberto Lim said that the tolerance level of the errors is 1 per 20,000 ballots.

In time and motion studies conducted by the business club, there will be three additional hours for conducting the parallel manual count. If there are discrepancies in the ballots in a precinct, a full manual count for that precinct will be conducted, giving an additional two days for the canvassing of votes.

Financial aspect

Lim said that they are not against the automated elections in May, they just want assurance that the PCOS machines will be accurate.

The additional step for a parallel manual count will cost an additional P500 million, much of which will be allocated for the extra hours put in by the BEIs.

Comelec officials said that the financial aspect is not the main consideration since there are other factors that the poll body must consider.

The Philippine Bar Association said that it agrees with the MBC proposal for the parallel manual count not just for three positions but five.

Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said that the commission en banc would make a decision on the MBC proposal in the “next few days.”

What a consumer group simply wants is for the Comelec to clarify whether the conduct of a parallel manual count is feasible.

The poll body on Sunday reportedly said that “it was too late to resort to a parallel manual count” but on Monday also reportedly said that “it had not ruled out the same.”

“This is certainly confusing and it not only erodes the public’s confidence in the automated elections but also highlights Comelec’s lack of transparency with regard to its state of preparedness,” Raul Concepcion, Consumer and Oil Price Watch (COPW) chairman, said in a statement also on Monday.

“This latest flip-flopping only reinforces COPW’s doubts that the automated elections will work,” Concepcion added.

He said that the Comelec should immediately finish distributing some 50 million ballots to the 77,000 clustered precincts and mailing sample ballots with precinct

Concepcion added that the poll body should assure the public that the 82,000 PCOS machines would work during the elections.

During a radio interview also on Monday, Malacañang deputy spokesman Gary Olivar said that the parallel manual count, if allowed by the Comelec, will be useless since the law mandates that it is the results of the automated polls that must be followed.

“A parallel manual count will not help the stability of the elections. The automation of the coming elections is there precisely to address all the problems in a manual system,” Olivar added.
Instead of criticizing the Comelec in the conduct of the automated polls, according to him, the public should support the poll body.

“We have to make up our mind. Once we decide [on automation], let’s go ahead with it. Let’s support the Comelec,” he said.

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