Manila Bulletin – Reforming elections: preparing for 2022

By Atty. Gregorio Y. Larrazabal | Manila Bulletin

(Part I)

#ASKGOYO

With the election fever subsiding and more and more people training their sights on the May, 2022, presidential elections, now is a good time to discuss possible improvements in the electoral system to have better elections in 2022.

What are SOME issues that need to be addressed and looked at in the next three years?

1. Changing of the technology partner for the 2022 presidential elections

The President made a statement a few weeks after the May 13 elections, that he suggested to Comelec that the technology provider used by Comelec in the 2010, 2013, 2016, and 2019 elections should no longer be involved in the 2022 presidential elections. Comelec made statements that they would study the request of the President.

It bears noting that the system used by Comelec in the May 13, 2019, elections is already owned by the commission. This includes not only the software, but more importantly, the counting machines, which Comelec bought in 2018 from Smartmatic. The complication here is, what will Comelec do with the over 170,000 counting machines which they bought in 2013 and 2018? I doubt the machines can be sold to another country, as these machines are already used.

So what do you do with the machines? The counting machines are basically scanners. Thus, theoretically, they can be used in helping digitize the government. The most basic would be for the machines to be used by the Office of the Civil Register, or Register of Deeds in digitizing its files. I think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, but what’s important is that there is a plan to utilize the machines to make them productive, instead of just storing them in a warehouse, where they will continue to deteriorate, and eventually becomes useless.

So, with the issue of the utilization of the machines already discussed, we now have to look at how to allow another technology provider to partner with Comelec for the 2022 presidential elections. One of the biggest problems is time. With less than 3 years before the next national elections, people have to start moving. It starts with having a technology fair or forum where system providers and vendors will be able to show the various Automated Election Systems for Comelec and the Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) to examine. That has to be done ASAP. I had mentioned before that it should be ideally be done by August, or at the latest, September, of 2019. After which Comelec, in coordination with the CAC, has to prepare the corresponding evaluations on the various systems available, and make the appropriate budgetary proposal for funding by Congress. The evaluation, recommendation of the AES to be used, and budgetary proposal must all be done before the end of 2019. In my opinion, if that process goes past 2019 and into 2020, it will already be too late. So, people have to move fast.

I have to emphasize that the system that will be recommended to be used has to conform to the requirements of Republic Act 9369. However, Congress may decide to revisit and amend RA 9369.

2. Conduct of an assessment of the May 13, 2019, midterm elections

The assessment has to be a comprehensive assessment that does not skirt the issues that were raised by the various stakeholders. Having a thorough evaluation and discussion is essential is ensuring better elections not only in 2022, but subsequent elections as well. This includes:

1. Evaluation of the AES of the May 13, 2019 election which includes two aspects:

1. SYSTEM

Assessment of the software and hardware used in the elections. The Comelec field offices and central office have to have the reports on the issues regarding the software, like the issue of the 7-hour blackout of results from a server which was supposed to regularly push the results, which caused a lot of concerns from the public. The other side of the system aspect is the hardware used in the elections. This include the counting machines, the canvassing and consolidation systems used by the Boards of Canvassers (municipal, city, provincial, and national). It also includes the Voter Registration and Verification Machines which were used in several regions. There were countless of reports of the VRVMs malfunctioning. It was such that, in numerous places, the electoral boards just disregarded the use of the machines. What caused the machines to be rendered useless, despite the Comelec awarding over a billion pesos for the said project?

2. PROCEDURES

Although largely ignored by the public, the procedures aspect in the preparations for an election is even more important than the software and hardware.

In this regard, evaluation of the whole process is key to ensuring that there will be less problems in the May 2022 elections as compared to the just-concluded May 2019 automated election. There are just too many steps in the process for me to fit it in this column. Below is just a snippet of what procedures include:

Ensuring proper storage of the machines used in the elections, which include the counting machines and canvassing & consolidation computers used by the Boards of Canvassers.

Audit of the supplies used in the printing of the official ballots. This not only include plugging possible loopholes in the slippage of supplies used in the printing of ballots, but also include early finalization and corresponding custody of the ballot faces, ballot verification after printing, use of proper packaging in the packing of the official ballots, proper notification when the ballots and other accountable forms are shipped out, training of officials and members of the Electoral Boards and Board of Canvassers tasked to run the elections on election day.

Regular and thorough examination of the machines to be used during the elections. This has to be done consistently and for ALL machines. After examination, the machines have to be stored in the appropriate storage area and regularly inspected.

Giving the public regular updates on the status of the preparations to keep the public and stakeholders abreast.

Next week, we’ll discuss the following topics:

1. Bringing in of the private sector, which includes the citizen’s arm, political parties and other stakeholders.

2. Strengthening of the mechanisms within Comelec.

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