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Manual vote counts for greater transparency



THE 18th Congress of the Philippines has yet to begin on Monday, July 22, but many senators and congressmen have already announced bills they intend to file and pursue in the coming sessions.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III disclosed he has filed Senate Bill 7 which seeks the holding of hybrid national and local elections through manual voting and counting at the precinct level along with automated transmission and canvassing of results.

The Sotto bill seeks to correct what many believe to be a weakness in the present system of automated elections. Under this present system, voters mark their ballots by filling in circles opposite the names of the candidates they are voting for. At the end of the day, the voting machine issues the voting results, with the number of votes for each candidate. These precinct results are then transmitted to the municipal center, where machines add up the precinct results. The municipal totals are then transmitted to the national center.

The adding of the votes is all done by machine. It saves a lot of time. But doubts persist about the results that come out of the machines. For these machines – like any computerized equipment in this age of information technology – could be programmed to produce a desired result. There is no proof that this has actually been done, but the possibility exists. And so the doubts persist.

Senate President Sotto’s bill seeks to erase this doubt by providing for manual counting at precinct level. This will take time, as the precinct officials examine each ballot and announce each name and mark them on the blackboard for all to see. This constitutes the manual part of the voting.

The usual automated transmission and canvassing of precinct results will follow. Any discrepancy in the totals can be checked against the manually counted precinct results under the Sotto bill. This is now impossible because of the present system of total automation from start to finish.

In the last presidential election in 2016, the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) reported the intrusion of an unauthorized transparency queue server while the system was receiving data from precincts around the country. Similarly, in the last midterm election last May, 2019, there was an unexplained seven-hour interruption in the reception of data.

Were voting results from the precincts changed in any way during those interruptions? The answer may never be known because everything was happening inside machines. In a hybrid election, such as that proposed in the Sotto bill, the automated totals can be checked against the manual precinct counts.

We have been holding automated elections since 2010 and we welcome the swiftness with which the nation gets to know the final results of presidential-vice presidential and senatorial elections. But there will always be doubts because of the lack of transparency in the entire process.

Senate President Sotto’s bill may mean require a bit longer time spent in manual counts in precincts, but it will mean greater transparency and thus greater trust in the election process.