Comelec urged: Do manual audit in poll hot spots

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 22 2010 05:33 PM | Updated as of Apr 23 2010 01:34 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) on Thursday urged the Commission on Elections to do a random manual audit of voting in election hot spots during the May 10 automated elections.

In a statement read by Namfrel Chairman Jose Cuisia, the poll watchdog said a random manual audit should be done after the transmission of votes to polling servers but prior to the proclamation of the winners. He added that the manual audit should be done in hot spot areas, should involve a sample size that will ensure a 95% confidence level, and that precincts to be audited should be picked 6 hours after the close of polls.

Cuisia said the manual audit should be done by boards of election inspectors from another precinct.

The Namfrel chairman echoed the recommendations of US-based election mathematician Kathy Dopp who said that a random manual audit is useful for establishing which ballots were not read or cannot be read by the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.

In a separate statement, the poll watchdog said Comelec should also disclose the amount spent for the automated election system.

Congress has allotted some P11 billion for the poll automation project. Comelec, however, has admitted to undue lapses in the non-payment of penalties by contractor Smartmatic-TIM, the alleged oversight in price of ballot secrecy folders as well as propensity for awarding contracts without public bidding.

Damaso Magbuai, chairman of Namfrel's membership committee, also questioned the Comelec's spending for voter education. He said that if a similar project were to be undertaken by the private sector, it would take years before implementing the project to ensure everyone who needs to know would be properly educated.

Namfrel council member Guillermo Luz also noted that the clustering of voters from different precincts could potentially lead to confusion on Election Day since there is no assurance that all the clustered precincts came from the same school. This is on top of the possibility of long lines on election day because many voters were clustered onto just one precinct.

He said the public must check early which precinct they are voting to avoid confusion.

Magbuai said the Comelec has yet to post the complete voters' lists in some areas.

Parallel count

The poll watchdog has supported the call of IT professionals for the conduct of a parallel manual count for the positions of president, vice-president and one local official, to cross-check the results of the PCOS machines.

IT experts said a parallel manual count would cost Comelec an additional P500 million, mostly in overtime pay for BEIs, and could be done within 3-5 hours after polls close.

The Philippine Bar Association (PBA) earlier voiced concern over the gross lack of preparations and safeguards for the country's first-ever nationwide automated polls. 

Among the problems that have plagued the Comelec's preparations are malfunctioning precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines, lack of independent source code review, delayed printing of official ballots, controversies in the public bidding for indelible ink and ballot secrecy folder supply contracts, unreliable logistics firms, lack of transparency in canvassing of votes, lack of contingency/continuity plans, lack of effective voter's education campaign, and lack of a legal framework in case of failure of elections.

Former Ombudsman and Solicitor General Simeon Marcelo earlier said the PBA has submitted a letter asking Comelec to reconsider its decision to do away with the manual count since a full manual audit before the proclamation of candidates would ensure the accuracy of the votes.