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The Manila Times - We’re ready! – Namfrel

News & Interviews
3 April 2019

By Lito Averia | The Manila Times

NAMFREL, or the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections, the first in the world, has been at it since 1983. In fact, it started a worldwide movement of watching and observing the conduct of democratic elections. It has been copied and replicated in many countries. Namfrel has been deploying observers to other countries, sharing its own local experience on election observation.

Election observation has changed and Namfrel has had to re-invent itself to be more responsive. Its traditional activity is the conduct of a parallel quick count. Though the results are unofficial, Namfrel’s tabulation has always been based on official election documents and its volunteers have been requested to participate as resource persons in election disputes.

The major change came when an automated election system was first used in 2010 on a nationwide scale. Still, parallel quick count remains the centerpiece for election observation bodies. Broadcast companies joined the fray in delivering unofficial tabulation results. If parallel quick count of election results was a contest, then one can say that competition is quite tight.

Technology has invaded people’s lives. This can be seen in ordinary life. As commuters, for example, travel to their places of work or back home at the end of the day, with many of them holding on to their smartphones while in transit either playing games, watching movies, or engaged in social media activities.

Technology has also invaded elections. Namfrel has posted results of past elections on its website. A number of researchers have actually requested copies of the election results and other election-related data for analysis. This is where Namfrel finds a new niche. Using available technologies for data analytics, it is now looking at election results to generate new insights into the conduct of Philippine elections.

Automated election system monitoring. Namfrel has been actively engaged in observing election preparations, monitoring activities of the Commission on Elections relating to the automation of the midterm elections, the fourth time that the country is using the same technology that has been used in the last three national elections. Namfrel observers will track and observe activities before, during and after election day. Observation reports from the ground will be conveyed to Namfrel’s operation center via various electronic channels, depending on the availability of technology on the ground.

Random Manual Audit (RMA). As it did in 2016, Namfrel will likewise be involved in the conduct of the RMA. It is participating in the review of the rules on the conduct of the RMA used in previous elections. The RMA in the last three elections was done in randomly selected clustered precincts following the close of election operations. A new set of teachers, called the Random Manual Audit Team (RMAT), was tapped for each clustered precinct. It was always a challenge to deploy the RMAT as information on which clustered precinct was chosen comes late on election day, especially if the randomly selected clustered precinct is at a remote location. Another challenge is that the conduct of the RMA was generally not covered by election observers and was far away from observation by media.

The RMA will take a major change in 2019. It will be done centrally. Ballot boxes from the randomly selected clustered precincts will be recovered from the office of the city/municipal treasurer and will be transported back to the central location, which has yet to be identified. The activity will be open for observation by interested groups and media.

Open Election Data. Making election-related data open and accessible is about transparency. Namfrel plans to collect as much election-related data as it can, subject to approval of its petition for accreditation. Namfrel received electronic copies of the election results via the transparency server. It also received a copy of the certified voters list containing voter statistics and the project of precincts, which provided information on the location of voting centers and voting. In addition to the data that it gets, Namfrel petitioned to get automated election system-generated data — voter statistics and data from logs of the voting machines, canvassing and consolidation servers at the various levels of canvassing and consolidation, logs of the central server and the various servers at the meet-me-room, and logs from the telecommunications providers’ systems. The identity of all machines deployed for the elections is likewise requested. Namfrel is also asking to have access to the certificates of candidacy and statement of contributions and expenditure (SOCE). The automated election system-generated data as well as Namfrel’s observation and incident reports will be published and made available on its website.

If provided, the automated election system-generated data will provide a whole chain of data for study and analysis. Allegations of early transmissions, for example, can be better explained.

It is also an opportunity for the Commission on Elections to showcase the transparency of operations of the automated election system.

Namfrel has yet to receive approval of its petition for accreditation as of this writing.

The Namfrel team is ready. It held a gathering of chapter leaders in Luzon last March 20-23, 2019 in Makati. The assembly of chapter leaders in the Visayas was held in Cebu last March 27-29, 2019. Namfrel is holding the assembly of Mindanao chapter leaders on April 4-6, 2019 in Davao City.

Yes, Namfrel is ready to take on another round of challenges as it conducts observation of the midterm elections.