Comelec: Hybrid polls still an option despite issues
Despite objections raised by a citizens’ poll watch group, the Precinct Automated Tally System (PATaS) remains an option for the Commission on Elections in next year’s national elections.
The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) said the “hybrid” system, called the PATaS, which would combine manual and automatic processes, might not be ideal for use in the 2016 elections because of the confusion it could cause among both long-time and first-time voters.
In fact in a June 29 report, the PPCRV informed the Comelec: “It is respectfully recommended to the COMELEC that the PATaS be deemed underqualified for use in the large scale nationwide 2016 Elections on the basis of so many questions that arose and improbabilities of its effectiveness in the just concluded small-scale mock elections.”
The mock elections hosted by the Comelec was held on June 27 at the Bacoor National High School in Cavite. Under the system, pushed by former Comelec commissioner Gus Lagman as an alternative, voting and precinct count are manually done simultaneously with encoding and projection for public display before the precinct results are sent to the municipal, provincial and national board of canvassers as well as the central verification server for the official automatic canvassing of ballots.
Based on its observations, the PPCRV said, “For the long-time voter, going back to the manual process could again bring back problems of the past when voting manually. How much more when the additional first-time voters join in?”
In the actual voting during the mock elections, there were two types of ballots cast: one where the voter has to write the candidates’ names; and the other where a voter only has to jot down the number assigned to a candidate.
The PPCRV observed that while the second type was faster, it caused confusion among the voters “and resulted in invalid votes or ballots. It also requires an extensive and intensive education campaign on how to vote using the said ballots.”
“In fact, in the actual mock voting, even after explanation of the process there was still confusion on what to do, which prompted some of the actual voters of the locality to leave,” the group said.
During the precinct tally, the PPCRV further observed, the board of election inspectors (BEI) invalidated votes without explaining why.
“This again may draw argumentations from the different political watchers and may boil down to the same problems of the past on human appreciation of votes because of duress, fatigue and other human factors. Although this was just a case of lack of time for proper BEI orientations for this mock election, there will be lucrative temptations in the future for deliberate undue actions. Here is hoping such temptations will not be succumbed to,” PPCRV said.
Likewise, the group cited the tedious process of comparing manual against digital results before the transmission, which could create delay and give rise to pre-proclamation protests.
The PPCRV raised questions on the PATaS system particularly on the “unimpeachable accuracy” in the votes tally, which must neither be influenced by the emotions nor self-serving interests of the encoder, as well as on whether the manual count or digital transmission should be used on the event of a protest.
It further said, “Considering that a heated argument happened in the mock elections, this can also happen in thousands of precincts which will render such a volatile atmosphere for the elections that could erupt into violence, as well as cause a lot of doubt on the credibility of the polls. Can we use the word “democracy” as an effective arbiter when uncontrollable tensions are ignited?”
Even with the observations, Comelec chairman Andres Bautista said that PATaS or hybrid system remained an option with two others for use in next year’s national elections.
“Three options are being considered: refurbishment or upgrade of existing 82,000 PCOS (precinct count optical scan) machines and lease of 23,000 new OMRs (optical mark readers); lease of 23,000 new OMRs and lease of an additional 70,977 OMRs; and the hybrid system (PATaS),” Bautista pointed out.
The Comelec, he said, has been studying the feasibility of the system as an alternative for the national elections. It pointed out that the poll body has not finished gathering reports and observations from stakeholders, which would be presented on July 9 to the House of Representatives.
“That (referring to the citizen’s poll watch group’s observation) is the position of the PPCRV. We respect that. There are many groups there (mock polls). I am sure they will also share their observations,” Bautista said.
Other groups present during the mock polls were: the Center for People Empowerment in Governance; the Alliance of Concerned Teachers; the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections; the Legal Network for Truthful Elections; and other independent observers.
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