Will our votes be counted?

- Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

I just found out last week that when one of the more reputable survey groups asked Comelec for the final tally of the 2013 senatorial election, they were told Comelec is still encoding it. The term of the elected senators is almost half over and Comelec is still unable to account for all the votes cast for senators.

It will be recalled that when Comelec released the almost final tally, then Chairman Brillantes said the remaining uncounted votes could no longer affect the ranking of each candidate. Granted that he was right, Comelec must still count every last vote for historical record.

The survey group wanted the final tally because they normally do an academic exercise of comparing the final vote numbers with survey results. They want to know how their survey methodology and results compare with the actual voting. I am told they cannot do that with some 10 percent of the votes still to be counted and a really final tally released by Comelec.

There was a report I recall that Comelec stopped counting with millions of ballots more to go because Grace Poe was breaking all records in number of votes received. They were supposedly afraid if they continued counting, they may exceed the total registered voters.

That story may or may not be true, but the only way to find out is to count up to the last ballot. The response given by Comelec to the polling group that they are still encoding sounds like bulls#it. Then again, the IT group of Comelec lost my biometrics so I had to do it again. Why should I be surprised?

Now I am worried Comelec may not be able to give us an accurate count of our votes. Here we are lamenting our lack of choices from among the candidates, when all along we should be concerned about something more basic… like making sure they count our ballots.

The concept of computerized election is more than fine with me. It is the only way to go in this digital age. But it is more important to have a count truly reflecting the sentiment of voters. We don’t want an approximation of the vote count. Our election law mandates a 99.99 per cent accuracy. I don’t think we were anywhere near that standard in the last two computerized elections.

A careful audit of how Comelec managed the last two elections would likely reveal many violations of the election law. Comelec officials will claim they did not have enough time to follow the dictates of the law to the letter. I expect them to use the same excuse for next year’s election.

Many would put the blame on the opaqueness of the PCOS machines the Comelec procured. Maybe that is true. It didn’t help the past Comelec chairman also took shortcuts that seems to have violated the law which provided the strict guidelines for conducting automated elections.

In the last election, there was no digital signature. In 2010, the source code was not independently reviewed. In 2013, the source code review was partial and conducted late. They also immobilized the ultra violet light meant to catch the hologram on the ballots. That means fake ballots could be read by the machine.

There is something so wrong with the Comelec marrying itself to a single supplier of the PCOS machines. As we all saw a few months ago, it enabled Smartmatic to win the bid for supplying additional machines. Comelec could have obtained a more generic system that would enable a more transparent bidding that would attract other suppliers.

As it is turning out now, the Smartmatic stranglehold on Comelec has made the public confidence on the electoral process suspect. In a tight race, the probability of civil unrest could be high as there is no way of manually checking the truthfulness of the results being offered.

This is why I find the hybrid proposal interesting. There is nothing like actually writing the candidate’s name on the ballot. It commits the voter to the candidate in a way that darkening a circle for the optical reader fails to do.

Assuming we are stuck with the PCOS, it should give us a print out of our ballot which we can then check and put into a ballot box. The paper trail provides us a means to countercheck the PCOS count should there be a need.

Still, there is something about gathering at the precinct at the end of the voting day, opening the ballot boxes and reading the votes cast one by one as someone tabulates on a big board. It is open. It is transparent. Then the results can be transmitted via SMS or whatever technology is adopted. The interested party has a copy of the results as in the past.

Now we are being asked to accept whatever number comes out of the PCOS machine as gospel truth. We don’t know if the machine had been hacked or a malicious program inserted ahead of time.

When the Senate was discussing the bill that became the election law to govern computerized elections, there were careful debates on how to prevent fraud. That is why the senators, on advice of experts, introduced all those safeguards in the law which the Comelec simply disregarded. And now Comelec wonders why there are enough people who think their votes will not be counted.

The newly installed Comelec chairman, Andy Bautista, is a friend and from his record at PCGG, I have confidence in his integrity. But I worry he may be a hostage to a rotten situation and because there no more time to really fix things right, we may get a flawed result in the end.

Other than making sure the PCOS machines are deployed and assured to be in working condition, there is a need for Comelec to reassure the public they will accurately count our votes and no more short cuts will be tolerated. They have to be as transparent as possible in preparing for the elections.

Chairman Andy also has to do better than the three presidential debates he is thinking of. I know the discussions with the networks had been difficult. But that is only because chairman Andy is unable to see the project from the perspective of those who will pay the bill for production and pre-emption costs.

What’s so wrong about allowing the networks to air political advertising during program breaks? The important thing is the candidates are able to face the people and answer questions about their platforms and their track records.

The ultimate objective of chairman Andy should be how to make the electoral process not just flawless and lawful, but also credible. They may meet some minimum requirements of the law the way the past chairman always pointed out, but suffer the lack of credibility that makes the process a bad joke.

I don’t know if chairman Andy is now a hostage to Smartmatic and its PCOS machines but if he is, he should say so and then tell us what he will do to mitigate the problems arising from it.

Electing our next president is crucial to our country’s future and we simply must do it right. That means make it credible. Without credibility, we might as well just go to the beach on election day.

Attention: DPWH/Secretary Almendras

I got this letter from one of my readers.

Dear Mr. Chanco,

My name is Danny Laohoo and I am a regular reader of your column Demand & Supply. I am a resident of Quezon City and I am wondering why our government, especially DPWH cannot seem to open the C-3 portion from Rizal Avenue up to North Harbor.

This is a very important road network linking North Expressway to North and South Harbor passing thru C-3. The main problem is a few hundred meters of C-3 from C. Cordero to Baltazar Street is still not passable due to a few residents who are contesting this project. 

This problem dates way back to 1980s. I am wondering why government is so helpless a few residents can “hijack”a major road network. It’s a matter of “just compensation” and I know this should not stop a government project that benefits many.  

Because of this failure of government, there is heavy traffic in the portion of C-3 from Sto.Domingo all the way to Rizal Avenue every day. That’s because container vans coming from North Expressway cannot use C-3 going to North and South Harbor, but have to turn right to B. Serrano then turn left to 7th Avenue and transverse the small roads.

This happens daily and has become worse now. Imagine the gasoline, manpower, wasted time and the port congestion this problem causes.  

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco



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