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A difficult problem for the Comelec



ON May 15, two days after the midterm elections held last May 13, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) began its Random Manual Audit (RMA) of the election results, with lead convenor Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE) and the Philippine Statistical Authority (PSA).

The RMA is mandated by law to ensure that the election results from the voting machines accurately reflect the actual vote. This is done by comparing the results of the voting in a sample of the precincts with the results of a manual count.

A total of 715 precincts were randomly chosen from the nation’s municipalities which were similarly randomly chosen. Four of the 715 were excluded in the manual count for various reasons. Excess ballots were found in one precinct in a Quezon City barangay. Some ballots were miss­ing in a Lanao del Sur precinct. Torn ballots were found in Quezon Province. And ballots of one precinct ended up in another precinct in Cebu.

These are problems involving handling of the election process, not the performance of the vot­ing machines. They were excluded from the 715 chosen precincts, as the PSA said they would not statistically affect the results of the RMA. Manual count of ballots in the 711 precincts began on May 15. The RMA Committee reported its findings 23 days later, on June 6.

The result was an accuracy rate of 99.9953 percent overall. For the senatorial tally, it was 99.9971 percent; for the House voting, 99.9946 percent; for the local officials, 99.9941 percent.

There have long been calls for a return to manual voting in the Philippines, along with claims disputing the accuracy of the vote-counting machines supplied by Smartmatic. The Comelec has resisted all these efforts, citing the tremendous advantage of automated elections and absence of verifiable quantitative data to warrant the distrust. Since 2010, the Comelec has received a total of 103 electoral complaints. In all cases, however, manual recounts yielded the same results as the electronic results.

The speed and accuracy of the vote-counting machines has also helped ease the tension that usually accompanies Philippine elections. The Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines have benefited from automated elections as well, as the number of poll-related violence has dramatically gone down since the start of automated elections in 2010. The Depart­ment of Education has similarly reported fewer incidents of violence against teachers serving as poll workers.

But President Duterte has now called on the Comelec to let go of Smartmatic, citing opposition allegations of fraud in previous elections, including 2016 which, paradoxically, the President him­self won. The Comelec said it is looking for a legal basis to remove Smartmatic so as to follow the President’s wishes, but it may be hard-pressed to do so.

The recent results of the Random Manual Count showing an overwhelming 99.99 percent accuracy of the voting machines count in comparison with the manual count will make the Comelec’s efforts to let go of Smartmatic and its machines even more difficult.