Monday, April 4, 2011

Tangibles and Intangibles of a Poll Recount

We did not expect to lose and we do not know why we lost. This was what lawyer Romulo Macalintal, of Manila mayoral candidate Lito Atienza, said when we spoke last Friday at the Commission on Elections (Comelec). April 1st marked the third day of the recounting of ballots from the 200 clustered precinct-sample (of over 130,000 ballots) of the 1,441 clustered precincts in Manila, which the Atienza camp brought before the Comelec. The recount is estimated to be completed in seven more days.

The Atienza camp had asked for a recount because they suspected that pre-determined results may have been programmed into the ballot-counting machines before the voting took place on May 10, 2010. Adding to their suspicion, according to Macalintal, were the two-digit variances that were shown when the machine count was checked manually through the post-election random audit. In last year’s contest, candidate Alfredo Lim (with 395,910 votes) bested Atienza (181,094 votes) by over 214,000. (Philippine Daily Inquirer,

In the resolutions it passed last year (discussed in the previous blog at:, the election management body specified that the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines were to used in recounts. These machines counted the ballots from each of the over 76,000 clustered precinct (composed of between five and seven precincts in cluster or an average of over 600 voters per cluster) throughout the country in the May 2010 polls. However, protester Atienza objected to their use because they suspect that the machines may not have counted accurately; and as Macalintal cited, the evidence that they hope to come out with can only be obtained through a manual review of the votes on each ballot. On 16 March 2011, the Comelec passed resolution 9164 ( completely making the recount a manual process.

Contributing to their resistance against the PCOS, according to Macalintal, were the Comelec’s charges of PhP700,000 (USD16,000) for rental of the PCOS, and PhP300,000 (USD7,000) for the purchase of IT equipment and to pay for IT experts.

Ballots inside a just-opened box.
At the recount, Macalintal pointed out that the PCOS machines, had they been used, would have rejected many ballots. This is because some ballots were crumpled while inside the ballot boxes during storage, and some were stuck to each other crumpled and soiled when they dried after being water-logged. With the manual counting shading on the ovals to show votes were clearly appreciable.

Section 3 of Comelec resolution 8804 ( puts the recount expenses at PhP1,424 per clustered precinct. However, it has charged PhP500 per precinct; and the protesting camp has reportedly made a cash deposit of PhP10 million (USD232,000) to the Comelec. The media reported last week that the Atienza camp is expecting to recover a portion of that deposit because they have been erroneously charged by the precinct instead of by the clustered precinct.

My estimate is that Atienza and sitting mayor Lim expend between PhP25,000 and upwards to PhP35,000 for each day of the recount. From the information gathered from their representatives present at the recount, each revisor (in the recount committee representing the contesting parties) are paid at least PhP1,000 per day, and each lawyer at least PhP5,000 daily. There are 10 recount committees working each day, so each camp needed to field 10 revisors. Alongside them are between three and five lawyers on each camp who are on standby for any issues that may arise, and ready to take the place of any revisor just in case s/he could not make it that day. This cost excludes the amount that their counsels 
charge for handling the case.
Recount committee sorting ballots before examining each vote.
During my observation a revisor pointed out that a group of ballots did not contain the same signatures of the chair of the board of election inspectors (or polling station committee). In the Philippines, the poll station chair affixes his/her signature on the ballot right in front of and before it is handed to the voter to attest that the ballot was given at the polling station on the day of the voting. These ballots, which were not listed in the resolution as among those that can be contested, will be submitted to Comelec en banc for them to rule on.
Guidelines for appreciating the vote.
This sheet is posted on each of the recount committee tabletop.

Early signs indicate that the process is going smoothly and neither party sees any issues associated with it. One of lawyers commented that the Comelec recount committee members of seem to know what they are doing.

It is certainly good to note that the recount process is going well. But like many other processes the monetary costs are not all there is to it. There are indeed other underlying and intangible costs of the recount. The cost of getting elected, if one includes the cost to bear a possible recount, as this is a form of redress guaranteed in the election law, seems to become more and more unaffordable to ordinary individuals even if s/he is more qualified than others to serve for elective office. Looking at the elections in a systemic manner, it is obvious that the contests are meant only for the rich. Inefficiencies in the system continue to extract significant costs, not just to the candidate, but also to the voter, whose taxes are eventually taken away from other services in order support the conduct of (inefficient) elections.

(This is the penultimate article of a four-part series. Earlier posts are at: and

1 comment:

  1. The astronomical expense can actually be avoided if the fee structure is rationalized. The existing framework kasi is recount or revision of write-in votes. A lot of expense items can be dispensed with or substantially reduced.