The Manila Times : Namfrel pushes electoral reforms

News & Interviews
1 September 2021

By William Depasupil | The Manila Times

ELECTION watchdog National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) has expressed the need for the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to implement a single standard in the listing of candidates on the ballot, among other reforms, to ensure the integrity of votes in the 2022 national and local elections.

Namfrel secretary-general Eric Alvia on Tuesday said the current ballot format has resulted in millions of invalid votes and favors popular candidates and those who belong to well-entrenched political families "Under the present system, there is no single standard of listing of candidates [on the ballot]," Alvia, in a virtual news briefing, said.

"Namfrel sees that because of the present format of the ballot, there were a lot of undervotes or wasted votes because the voters neglected to answer a number of positions in the ballot," he added.

Alvia cited as an example the 2010 vice presidential race between former Makati mayor Jejomar "Jojo" Binay and former senator Manuel "Mar" Roxas 2nd, and between former senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. and now Vice President Maria Leonor "Leni" Robredo in 2016.

"In the 2010 protest, Binay led Roxas by more than 700,000 votes but almost 3 million votes were declared invalid or not filled up. Again in 2016, Robredo only led Marcos by 260,000 votes but almost 4 million votes for vice president were wasted because of invalid votes," he pointed out.

Alvia noted that in 2016, 20 percent of voters did not vote for party-list candidates and almost 40 percent during the 2019 polls, saying, "Had the votes been counted, it could have altered the results of the elections."

"One reason also why there was a huge number of voters who were not able to vote correctly was the ballot's face design. The voters did not know there are other choices at the back of the ballot for party-list bets," he added.

"It's a combination of adopting the number system randomly chosen while at the same time also ensuring the ballot is designed properly," Alvia said.

Namfrel has proposed to the Comelec that instead of going alphabetical by surname, random numbers be given to candidates for both local and national positions before the campaign period.

Such numbers, it said, should be followed in the ballot and the same should be used in the campaign.

"For example, if there are 8 candidates for president, they should be given random numbers from 1 to 8, If there are 5 candidates for vice president, their random numbers will be from 9 to 13 and so on for all national positions," Alvia explained.

"For local polls, they can be assigned numbers per region to differentiate them from national candidates," he said.

The Comelec, Alvia added, would raffle off the numbers through their party representatives and once they have the number, the names of candidates would appear beside their respective numbers.

That number would only be provided to the candidate on the day before the elections.

"It's an advantage for voters who can hardly read. Also, the duplication of surnames would be avoided, and personality politics and early campaigning would be minimized because they will only know their numbers a day before the elections," Alvia said.

Namfrel national council member Fernado Contreras Jr. said they have also recommended to the Comelec the use of quick response (QR) code in the election return (ER) and the voter verification paper audit trail, which serves as the voter's receipt.

He added the Comelec has started preparation to use the QR code but the challenge in its ER was the density of information that would be added.

"Namfrel suggested the use of four QRs. The first will be for the data on time, place and number of votes; second is for national candidate results, third for local candidates result and fourth for party-list vote results because you can get data faster with QR," according to Contreras.

"The QR version will serve as the machine-readable version of the results where anybody with tools like smart phones with cameras can read the results of ER. Any individual or group can conduct an independent count. It will bolster the integrity of the votes," he said.

Also suggested by Namfrel were the open-source licensing of the automated election system (AES) of software.

At present, election provider Smartmatic has the sole proprietary license to the AES software.

Namfrel also proposed the use of the Election Markup Language so all election data would be readable in all phases of the system and the right use of digital signature.