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Official Congress count will settle VP dispute

It’s unfortunate that the unofficial quick count of votes for vice president in the recent elections has been marred to the point that charges of poll sabotage have been filed against the Commission on Elections and officials of Smartmatic and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV).

Because of the quick count, the nation was able to know who had been elected president – Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of Davao City –within hours after the last vote was cast. It was a welcome departure from our experience in previous elections, when it took days, weeks, or even months to know who had won the presidential election.

The problem this time is that in the middle of the quick count – the transmission of election figures to Transparency Server, from which the PPCRV got the results which it quickly released to media — someone in Smartmatic opened the system to order that “?” be corrected to “ñ” in the names of two candidates. It appeared to be a minor and innocent change, with — so it was claimed – no effect on the numbers. Soon afterwards, however, the camp of Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. noticed that votes for his top vice-presidential rival, Rep. Leni Robredo, began to rise until they overtook Marcos’ votes. The Marcos camp thus called for a manual recount of the votes for vice president.

The PPCRV has already stopped its unofficial quick count to give way to the official count for president and vice president to be done by Congress, as provided by the Constitution. The Senate has been receiving the official returns for sometime now. It and the House of Representatives are to meet in joint session tomorrow, Tuesday, May 24, to carry out this constitutional duty.

It is this official count by Congress that matters, not the quick count which has been mired in controversy as far as the vice-presidential count is concerned. It is at this official count where all the parties concerned should now focus their attention, with the Marcos camp closely watching to ensure that the irregularity it saw in the quick count does not come up in the official Congress canvass.

Any investigation on the Comelec-Smartmatic-Transparency Server-PPCRV quick count will have no effect on the official canvass by Congress. But it may serve to expose and penalize a violation by a Smartmatic employee and possibly a Comelec official. Their opening of the system to make seemingly minor spelling corrections was a violation of established protocol, for which penalties are due. If it should turn out that the unauthorized entry also resulted in altering the number of votes cast, it becomes a much more serious violation calling for much more decisive action.

A group of information technology experts also want what they call a “forensic investigation” to look closely at the numbers reported in the automated election system. It called for a statistical analysis of the figures, particularly on findings that there was a “constant rate of increase” in the votes for vice president. This is important, they said, to eliminate any untoward public speculation on the canvassing and firmly establish the credibility of automated elections.