Automated vote count to be tried in Cebu City

- by Freeman News Service -

CEBU - The city of Cebu has been chosen by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) as one of the pilot areas where automated vote-counting machines will be used for the 2001 elections.

But this is not quite a welcome development for some local leaders in the absence of a Comelec assurance that going automated would mean a clean and honest canvassing of ballots.

The one good thing about it is that it will speed up the counting of election returns.

"The machines will ensure speed in the counting of ballots," said Edwin Cabangag, election officer for the second district of Cebu.

He said the machines are capable of tallying 150 ballots per minute.

But local Comelec officials said they cannot give assurance that the automated counting system would mean clean canvassing of votes as it is still prone to external manipulation.

Mayoralty aspirant Tomas Osmeña is wary about the proposed counting system.

"I prefer the manual system for the reason that I don't want to be a guinea pig of this project," Osmeña said.

He added that automation should first be tried in smaller areas and ensure a manipulation-proof counting system before it is used in larger voting centers like Cebu.

The pilot program, which will also include Metro Manila, Cagayan de Oro, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and possibly, Iloilo City, will test the cost-effectiveness of the procedure for possible nationwide adoption by 2004.

The allotment of machines, however, is yet to be determined after the complete list of voters is drawn by October this year.

The counting machines used in the last ARMM elections were worth $15,000 each.

Comelec officials gave assurance that standby generators and other contingency measures will be in place in the event of power failures.

Mayor Alvin Garcia welcomes the new system. "Considering the fact that Cebu has always been on the cutting edge of technology, I am in favor of this development - in principle," he said.

Garcia explained that as long as the Comelec can give assurance that automation would prove to be tamper-proof, he would give his support for the project.

Cebu City councilor Felixberto Rosito, on the other hand, expressed concern over the new system, saying that despite the technology, it can still be subject to manipulation, this time involving even bigger numbers.

However, a significant number of the city councilors, including Firmo Dayao, Edgardo Labella, Ronald Cuenco, Jocelyn Pesquera, Jose Navarro, Fe Mantua-Ruiz and Anthony Jones Luy, are in favor of the new system, saying it will result in a faster and more accurate counting as long as safeguards against manipulation are put in place.

"We should do everything we can to ensure that the counting is accurate to protect the process of democracy," said provincial board member John Henry Gregory Osmeña, who favors the automated system.

Board member Victor Maambong, for his part, said an automated counting system is "long overdue, and Cebu, being a highly urbanized electorate deserves this mechanism."

Meanwhile, the Comelec will be implementing a nationwide enumeration system to ensure specific delineation of precincts and an accurate list of voters for the elections on May 14, 2001.

Enumerators will be doing a house-to-house survey of registered and potential voters and will draw up a list which will verify the computerized voters' list.

Once the accurate voters' list is completed, permanent precincts, which will have a maximum capacity of 200 voters each, will be drawn up.

The Comelec central office has allocated a budget of P1.1 million for Cebu City for additional expenses to be incurred in the hiring of canvassing personnel.

The enumeration is set to begin later this month and the survey is targeted to be completed after 30 days.

Simaco Labata, election officer for the first district of Cebu City, said the system is expected to "clean up the list of voters" and ensure against double registration and flying voters.

Under Section 261 of the Omnibus Election Code, those found guilty of the offense will be sentenced from one to six years' imprisonment without probation.











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