Monday, April 11, 2011

When do we see the Comelec in court?

The automation of the 2010 polls had many other benefits, which the Philippine electoral management body failed to appreciate. The efficiencies that could be had in using machines, instead of having humans do, to count ballots and consolidate results were many and strategic, and easy and cost-effective to implement. Yet they were not capitalized on. In migrating from the manual to the automated process, the metrics of performance have changed. The inability to tap the efficiencies inherent in the modernized process, that could have been used to improve the administration of the elections, is an inefficiency. For this, we are penalized.

Let me just use the current ballot recount process (discussed in first three parts of this four-part piece) to reveal some of the burden upon the various election actors that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) themselves have caused.

Because the actual accuracy of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines significantly differed from that which the Comelec had committed, it egged election contestants to call for a recount. The random manual audit done by the Comelec showed that the machine was accurate to only 99.6 percent as against the 99.995 percent promised. Even the number of individual ballots counted, which is a basic test of accuracy, differed. The protester in the recount for mayor of Manila cited unreliability of the PCOS as reason why they had asked that the ballots be reviewed manually.

The impact is that there are close to 100 election protest cases questioning the results before the Comelec and before the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal.  There are surely others with the trial courts.

Each protester provides a list of 20 percent of the polling stations in her/his jurisdiction, a sample number with which after the recount, to prove that a total recount would be merited. If there are over a thousand polling stations, 200 would be the maximum sample size. The protester bears all the recount cost, including honoraria for the recount committees. The protestee, too, as as result is penalized because s/he has to pay for his/her own representatives in the recount committees, as well as for her/his counsels.

There is no logic behind the 20 percent-of-polling stations recount sample because fewer precincts could have achieved the purpose using statistics. The Comelec could use a random sample of less than five percent of polling stations to establish cause for a jurisdiction-wide recount. Unfortunately, Comelec sees the recount as a fight between contestants even if they themselves had provided the raison d’etre for such fight. This is inefficiency and neglect of responsibility.

Because the automated system failed to make a report on the rate of over votes, no votes (abstentions), under votes and rejected ballots, election contestants and and others are deprived of crucial information. Without this information, the non-winner who has reason to believe that s/he might have won, is better off calling for a recount to play safe. If the Comelec had provided these pieces of information, the contestants would have been able to apply basic tests of statistics to determine if there is indeed a chance to recover votes and change the results. These pieces of information would have been easily captured by the PCOS if Comlec had really appreciated what automation was capable of doing. Who, therefore, pays for this inefficiency? Everyone does.

Because the automated election system used by the Comelec does not have a 100 percent accuracy, then, there should be an automatic recount when the difference between winning and losing is outside of the committed accuracy rate. In this case the Comelec should pay for the cost of the recount. By not having an automatic recount provision, the Comelec is neglectful of the fact that they are responsible to verify results that fall outside of the accuracy rate of the system that they commissioned.

It looks like there are a lot that the Comelec needs to be made accountable for. They do contribute to unnecessarily increasing the cost of getting elected.  So, when do we see them in court?

Earlier posts are: Recount ReduxCircular Reference Error and Rule Change, and Tangibles and Intangibles of Poll Recount.

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