Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Topic 101: Automated Elections

On the same day that we ate conveyor-belt sushi my partner and I ran into a voters' education program at the SM Mall of Asia. It was being hosted by both the GMA Network and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV).

This year, on May 10, will be the first time for most Filipinos to cast their votes in a national election via an automated election system, and a lot of people are still apprehensive about the new technology, not to mention are really not familiar with the process for voting via machine.

So while the PPCRV has been touring the Philippines with lectures and some hands-on voting practice, GMA went one step further and created a song-and-dance number that explains in the vernacular how the new process of voting works. It's called "Bilog na Hugis Itlog" (or, roughly, A Circle Shaped Like An Egg). The song features the company's resident dance troupe, the Sexbomb Dancers.

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I'm talking about this now because I participated in the mock voting exercise on Sunday, and afterwards my partner said, "You should blog about this whole elections thing: the process, you know, tell people how it's done."

I'm not sure I'm going to do a better job than the folks at PPCRV, who have been at this for years, but I will do my best to try.

The people running the various voters' education campaigns might not have exactly made the point crystal-clear, so let me start out by saying that the May 2010 elections are going to be conducted in both MANUAL and AUTOMATED ways.

MANUAL: A voter will still have to fill in a ballot with a pen. The major difference, of course, is that it will be a hell of a long ballot, with all the names of the candidates pre-printed on it, and with ovals to shade or fill in next to each name. If you've ever taken one of those standardized exams in school, the ones where you were given a No. 2 pencil and told to shade the oval that corresponds to your answer, that's EXACTLY what it's going to be like come May 10.

AUTOMATED: Once the voter him- or herself drops his or her ballot into the machine atop the ballot box, it's up to the machine to do all the work of counting and tallying the votes, printing the election returns, and determining the winners.

An example of the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machine.

Here's how the process works, at least as I experienced it during the walkthrough.

1. Look for name on the voters' list.

2. If name is found, speak to Board of Election Inspectors. You might have to show an ID. It's the BEI's job to explain the process of voting to you.

3. Write your name in a vacant space on the list that the BEIs have at their table. Take note that it also has spaces for your signature and right thumbprint.

4. The BEIs will then hand you the special pre-printed ballot, tucked into a voter secrecy folder, and one of the special pens for marking the ballot.

5. Sit in the designated polling area and start filling in the ballot, using the folder to shield your votes from prying eyes.

5a. To fill in the ballot: Look for the name/s of the person/s you are voting for and completely shade the oval/s next to the name/s. Do not mark the ovals in any other way (with an X, with a check, circling the ovals, etc.). Do not tear the ballot. Do not make any other extra marks on the ballot. Make sure that the ballot does not get dirty.

5b. Make sure to mark only as many ballots as a position will allow: ONE each for the positions of President, Vice-President, Mayor, Vice-Mayor, Governor, Vice-Governor, Party List; up to TWELVE names for the position of Senator; and the correct number for your location's Councilors and Provincial Board Members.

5c. It's okay to abstain from voting someone into position. It's also okay to under-vote - for example, you cannot complete the full list of twelve people to select as Senator. You can vote for none, one, or any number, UP TO twelve.

5d. It's NOT okay to over-vote. This will invalidate all of your votes for that position. For example, if you vote for thirteen Senators, all of your selections for the position of Senator will be made invalid. Same if you voted for more than one President, or more than the correct number of people for City Councilor.

5e. To avoid over-voting, you should have already picked out who you will be voting for before you head to the polling precincts. It's recommended to bring a pre-prepared list of candidates to vote for to your local precinct on Election Day. Keep it secret and safe, of course!

6. After voting, go up to the PCOS machine. First, take note of how many ballots have been cast already. Then, slide in your ballot. The number of ballots cast should go up by ONE.

6a. If there are technical difficulties, the machine will tell what needs to be done. Ask for assistance from the BEI if needed.

7. When your ballot has been successfully cast, head back to the BEI. They will ask you to sign the space next to your printed name, and mark the sheet with your right thumbprint. When that's done, a BEI will put a drop of indelible ink on your right forefinger. This means that you have already voted.

8. Once all election business has been completed, leave the polling precinct. No loitering allowed!

Right, I think that covers the whole process - but I'm sure you might have other questions to ask me, so please do and I will do my very best to answer them.

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