By Atty. Gregorio Larrazabal | Manila Bulletin
As a brief background, for every clustered precinct in an automated election, there are at least five people manning the precinct. In the last national automated elections, there were 85,769 clustered precincts. So, on election day there are at least 428,845 personnel all over the Philippines scattered over all the voting centers. Comelec does not have personnel in the voting centers. Aside from this, there’ll be at least one or two representatives of an organization accredited by Comelec (as the citizen’s arm), and watchers of around 10 political parties (national and local parties), plus additional watchers of independent candidates and party-list organizations.
That’s just inside the polling place. Within the school premises will be additional watchers, representatives of the citizen’s arm and individuals who belong to other civic organizations who are there to assist voters. Let’s not forget the voters themselves who tend to mill around the area before and after voting, to chat with others, and get the latest political gossip.
If you think that’s chaotic, wait till you step out of the school premises where there are even more people walking around, chatting and probably just soaking up the vibe, which is akin to a local fiesta. There are also hawkers, selling drinks and food for those in the voting centers.
And that’s what an election is in the Philippines, a national fiesta. Specially during barangay elections when votes are counted manually by the Board of Election Tellers (now called the Electoral Board), and people seem to want to get as close to those doing the counting as possible. With automated elections, this was minimized, because the election returns are generated immediately after the voting ends. But with manual counting, it’s the opposite.
That’s where a concern of many is right now. How do you decongest as much as possible the polling places and voting centers on election day during the May 9, 2022, elections? To make the process credible and transparent, yet safe for not only the members of the Electoral Board, but also the voters.
If the current system is maintained and used for the 2022 National Elections, one simple step to take is to increase the number of clustered precincts that will be audited (as provided under RA 9369). Under the law, a minimum of one clustered precinct is to be randomly chosen to be audited. The biggest number of clustered precincts randomly audited in an automated elections in the Philippines was during the 2010 elections. Before my term ended, I had suggested that the number of clustered precincts gradually increase in each succeeding election. However, my proposal was not approved. I still believe that the number of clustered precincts randomly chosen to be audited gradually increase should still be considered. In my proposal, I suggested that at least, 10 clustered precincts should be audited under the RMA (Random Manual Audit) provision, or a percentage of clustered precincts per legislative districts to ensure a more equitable distribution of precincts audited. A good number to start with if you base it on percentage would be 2 percent (2%) of the total clustered precincts per legislative district. The object is to ensure more transparency and credibility in the vote count (in an automated election system).
There should also be more positions audited during the RMA. Increasing the number of clustered precincts audited and also the number of elected positions in the ballot will be a very good step in not only ensuring transparency, but also promoting credibility in the results of the elections. Remember, every electoral exercise must not only be credible. It must also be perceived by the voters to be credible.
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