For the 2007 Midterm Elections, Comelec assigned over 44 million registered voters to 224,748 separate VOTING PRECINCTS composed of not more than 200 voters each and supervised by a Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) composed of three public school teachers, who supervise the polls, tally the votes and prepare the Precinct Election Return showing the votes received by each candidate.
SEVEN DAYS have now passed since the 2007 midterm elections BELIEVE IT OR NOT:
(1) No one knows precisely how many ballots were actually cast, i.e. what was the TURNOUT?
(2) No one knows precisely how many votes each candidate got and who won, i.e. what was the OUTCOME?
The DATA required to answer both these questions exists, but it is scattered throughout the 224,748 ELECTION RETURNS which were prepared by the BEIs after they tallied up to 200 ballots at their assigned precinct. HANDWRITTEN in words and figures on the ER, with the thumbprints of the BEI members, are the number of valid ballots tallied and the number of votes each candidate received.
Someone still has to READ the words or figures in each ER for each candidate, TYPE it into a computer which can later ADD up the corresponding numbers on ALL 224,748 Election Returns. But who has a copy of ALL the ERs at this point in time?
Comelec Resolution No. 7815 (Jan. 26, 2007) instructs the BEIs to prepare the Precinct Election Return in SEPTUPLICATE (7 copies):
1. The first copy, to the City or Municipal Board of Canvassers;Theoretically therefore, there are four entities who should have copies of ALL the 224,748 Election Returns, or are entitled to them:
2. The second copy, to the Commission;
3. The third copy, to the Provincial Board of Canvassers;
4. The fourth copy, to the dominant majority party as determined by the Commission;
5. The fifth copy, to the dominant minority party as determined by the Commission;
6. The sixth copy, to the citizens’ arm authorized by the Commission to conduct an unofficial count; and
7. The seventh copy, to be deposited inside the compartment of the ballot box for valid ballot.
(1) The Commission on Elections.
(2) The dominant majority party, Lakas-CMD.
(3) The dominant minority party, Liberal Party.
(4) The Comelec's Citizen Arm, National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel).
The city/municipal, and provincial Boards of Canvassers receive only the ERs of their constituent precinct ERs, and the seventh copy stays with the ballot box.
THE CHALLENGE: Even assuming we could get physical hold of all 224,748 ERs, the fact remains that the DATA we need is handwritten in words and figures beside each candidate's name on each of 224,748 separate pieces of paper the precinct Election Returns. In this form, the data is said to be in "analog" and not "digital" form. To CANVASS the election now means that a human being has to READ each Election Return and WRITE into an adding machine the number of votes received by each candidate. The analog data must be converted to digital form so that it can easily and accurately be transmitted, processed, stored or otherwise used by a computer.
The Comelec of course conducts the Official Tally via a multistage canvass that first determines the winners in the local city and municipal races, while aggregating and carrying forward the provincial and national results. Provincial Boards of Canvassers likewise determine election winners at their level and aggregate national results from below before forwarding everything to the Congress, which performs the final stage of canvass. This process naturally takes a long time, not only because of monkey business, but because even if everyone were absolutely honest and efficient, the official correction of errors and settlement of disputes and the orderly conduct of a MANUAL election canvass simply takes a lot of time.
Enter Namfrel and the idea of a Quick Count...
CAN THE BIG IDEA BEHIND NAMFREL BE SAVED?
Operation Quick Count contains Namfrel's latest update on its ongoing count of the 2007 elections. As of 20 May 2007 11:29 pm, Namfrel has tallied 38% of the total or 86,464 out of 224,748 precinct ERS at the counting center at La Salle Green Hills High School in Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila. At this pace, Namfrel is at least two weeks from answering with precision our two questions: how many voters cast ballots and how many votes did each candidate receive?
The glacial pace of the Namfrel "Quick Count" in 2007, does not bode well for its prospects of completion, given what happened in 2004 and reported problems already this year with software and human error.
"Namfrel must die!" TONY LOPEZ of the Manila Times declares -- fuming that the Namfrel QuickCount™ has fizzled out in 2007 just like it did in 2004:(via MLQ3)
Whatever Namfrel’s reason for existence, it should have evaporated by yesterday. The much-ballyhooed Namfrel Quick Count fizzled out. Just like in 2004, Namfrel failed in its mission, dismally, which is inexcusable considering that the self-proclaimed poll watchdog is run by do-gooding Catholics and businessmen inured in the art of management and handling difficult logistics. It is manned by what is claimed to be half a million volunteers and equipped with hundreds of computers.With Chairman Ben Abalos vowing to finish the official tally in TEN DAYS, and Namfrel reporting mysterious problems with its software, it is not inconceivable that Comelec could finish before Namfrel. IF that were to happen then Namfrel would indeed be DEAD and Tony Lopez's imperative would be fulfilled.
But if the Board of Election Inspectors can typically count the votes and produce their ER within 24 hours of polls closing, why does it take both the Namfrel several weeks to add up the numbers that are already written out, in words and figures on the ERs?
Why can neither the Comelec nor Namfrel, even today, give us an exact figure for HOW MANY VOTERS cast ballots last week?
The simple reason is this. It is a very, very hard thing to actually bring together in one tall pile, all 224,748 Election Returns! I wager that NO ONE, not Comelec, not Namfrel, not Lakas, not the LP, will ever actually have every single ER they are entitled to, all in one place, where a dedicated staff might get to work on them.
At La Salle Green Hills High School, at the Namfrel CountingCenter, one finds the closest thing to an attempt at quickly counting those ERs that the Namfrel's half million volunteers have managed to fax, email, text, or otherwise upload to the Center, from the archipelago's far flung precincts.
Comelec's multistage canvass, which may be slow, is actually more logically organized in some respects. Consider a physical fact. The average distance that an ER Sixth Copy must travel to get to the Namfrel Counting Center in Metro Manila is far longer than the distance it will travel to municipal, provincial and Comelec counting centers. As late as last Friday, Namfrel reps were admitting on tv that they do not yet have all the ERs, many being enroute or being transmitted, audited, and checked by overworked volunteers.
It is not surprising to me that neither the dominant Majority nor Minority party mounts its own Quick Count, despite being entitled to official copies of all the Election Returns. The logistics, organization and discipline required to do it properly would be daunting, and not even the Comelec has achieved it, nor does it seem inclined to do so.
But from a purely technical standpoint, an important lesson or insight can be gleaned:
The most logical place to AUTOMATE the Philippine Election is at the Precinct Level, when 750,000 public school teachers are actually available to DIGITIZE the Election Return.