Friday, March 26, 2010

"Ambiguous mark" should not disenfranchise voter

No voter should be disenfranchised because of any unreadable or "ambiguous marks" (as the Commission on Elections, COMELEC, would like to call it) on her/his ballot.

This is another case of a systems design flaw in the COMELEC poll automation program where the voters become the victim.   Good friend (former senator) Ting Paterno has reiterated that this design never had the voter in mind.  I totally agree with him.

From Section 38 (a) of Resolution No. 8786 dated March 4, Revised General Instruction of Boards of Election Inspectors (BEI) on the Voting, Counting and Transmission of Results in Connection with the 10 May 2010 National and Local Elections or (GI-BEI), a voter is allowed “to review his/her ballot to ensure that the ovals opposite the names of the candidate/part voted are fully shaded.”

However, if after reviewing the ballot and after re-feeding it in “four different orientations” (Section 38, c), the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machine still refuses to accept the ballot, this ballot is nullified and the BEIs are to mark it “REJECTED”.

This rejection of the ballot is tantamount to disenfranchisement and this is wrong.

It is highly possible that there is only one “ambiguous mark” on the entire ballot that the voter could have missed, but because of the flaw in the systems design, all the other votes are rejected. 

This system design flaw is, however, remediable.  The COMELEC is duty-bound to program the PCOS so that voters are prompted if the machine could not read his/her marking(s). In this case, the voter should be presented with an option to either have machine accept the ballot in spite the unreadable (ambiguous) mark(s), or not.

The machine message could read, for example, “UNREADABLE (ambiguous) MARK DETECTED, SUBMIT BALLOT?”; and the options would be “YES” or “NO”.  In this case the voter, who in spite diligent efforts and iteration could not locate the unreadable mark, s/he has the control on the action that should be taken.

The systems design and programming of the PCOS should be such that only the machine-unreadable (ambiguous) mark are discarded and not all other readable marks on the ballot.  Such unreadable mark should be treated as a blank vote and recorded and reported as such.

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