National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel)

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NAMFREL and ICT in Election and Governance Monitoring

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Since its inception, NAMFREL has always been an early adapter of information and communication technologies to empower its volunteers in carrying out their election and good governance monitoring tasks.

In 1984 for the Batasang Pambansa election, NAMFREL started using amateur and citizens band radio and fax machines to transmit election results. For the 1986 Snap election, fax machines were used extensively by NAMFREL throughout the country for the Operation Quick Count. Telex was also utilized during NAMFREL’s first decade, as well as short-wave, single-side band, and two-way radios, which the organization still used for the 2010 elections. It was also during this period that networked personal computers as well as automated spreadsheets were utilized to encode results coming from precinct election returns.

In the 1990s, with the rise of the internet, NAMFREL started using email to communicate with the different chapters. Towards the latter part of the decade, NAMFREL had partnered with service providers to ensure that all its chapters, where internet is supported, had email addresses and stable internet connection. There was also limited use of mobile cellular telephones and pagers. NAMFREL also launched its first website in the late ’90s, which contained materials that volunteers could use in mobilizing and in voter education. The NAMFREL newsletter was also born, which was sent via mail or email.

For the 2001 elections, NAMFREL made sure that its volunteers (at least the provincial chairpersons) had cellular phones. SIM cards and pre-paid cards were also distributed to all the chapters. For the 2004 elections, texting and online submissions were first utilized in the conduct of Operation Quick Count. NAMFREL also effectively used tri-media (print, radio, and television) in voter education and information dissemination.

In the past few years, with the rise of social media, NAMFREL started using Facebook and Twitter (and other services like YouTube, Google Maps, and Picasa) to distribute election-related news and information, and to have direct communication with volunteers and non-volunteers alike. The NAMFREL website was also re-launched, now containing not only news, but also archival materials for researchers and casual browsers. NAMFREL utilizes open source GIS & online mapping features to enhance user reporting & information access.

For the 2010 elections, volunteers and the public were able to sign-up as volunteers, and directly send to NAMFREL incident reports with media attachments, through the NAMFREL website. Cloud computing and crowd sourcing were also utilized to widen the coverage of its reporting and monitoring as well as uploading and storing electronic election results. The NAMFREL newsletter was also relaunched, now distributed only through the internet (email, website, and Scribd). NAMFREL also uses online communication tools like Skype and video conferencing in its operations.

In its good governance monitoring efforts, NAMFREL now also uses online tools like Google Docs and cloud services like Dropbox to enable volunteers to upload information, update documents, and collaborate in real time.

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Written by namfrel

June 29, 2011 at 4:07 pm

NAMFREL Statement on 2010 Elections

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Written by namfrel

May 20, 2010 at 3:22 pm

OBSERVATIONS ON THE MAY 10, 2010 ELECTIONS

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The 2010 Elections was a celebration of democracy by our people. By their patience and exuberance in a new process, and by the doggedness and resourcefulness of the teachers and the commitment of the COMELEC to make it work, elections did work. The National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections commends all those who played a role in the administration and conduct of the May 10, 2010 elections, most especially the teachers who served as Boards of Election Inspectors and the voters who endured difficulties and inconveniences but nonetheless accepted and the new automated system. On the whole, the new process of voting in an automated election system worked better than most people’s expectations.

The most dramatic improvement in the elections was in the counting and tabulating of votes, which occurred at unprecedented speeds for Philippine elections. Early tabulations were available within hours of the polls’ closing and significant numbers were reported by midnight of election day.

The second most dramatic change in the political scene came perhaps in the change of behavior of losing candidates. In prior elections, losing candidates rarely, if ever, conceded defeat. In this election, losing Presidential candidates quickly conceded their loss within 48 hours of elections, thereby reducing political tension and contributing to the public acceptance of results. This is a significant change in the Philippine political scene.

Although long queues – as long as four hours or more in many places — were seen throughout the day and some confusion arose from the inconsistent implementation of voting procedures, these appeared to have no material effect on people’s participation in the elections. Voter turnouts remained high, although lower than other election years, perhaps as a result of some people opting to go home after waiting in lines for some stretch of time. There were also reports of voters who were not able to locate their names on certified voters lists or who were not able to determine their precinct assignments.

Nonetheless, we wish to state our concerns and recommendations on a number of matters in the spirit of constructive observation in the hope that steps will be taken to further improve the system :

– Though not directly related to the election automation program, various incidents of election-related violence, vote-buying, flying voters, and underage voting were reported in different parts of the country. There were also some cases of failure of elections in scattered localities in the Visayas and Mindanao due to non-delivery or mis-delivery of election items or due to local disturbances. As already stated, the long queues at voting centers may have also discouraged some voters from exercising their right to vote. These are matters of concern to all of us because disenfranchisement is a violation of a voter’s rights and more progress must be made in the coming years to further minimize these occurrences.

– There was little or no secrecy in the filling up of ballots and inserting of ballots in PCOS machines. The length of the ballot, the close proximity to voters lining up to receive the ballots, and the size of the “secrecy” folder, and the method of inserting ballots into the PCOS machine with pollwatchers standing beside voters did not lend itself to any confidentiality of a person’s vote. This is an aspect which must be closely looked into and remedied in future elections.
 
– The pace of counting and canvassing has considerably slowed after the burst of speed seen in the first 24 to 48 hours after elections. Given that enough time has lapsed for all other remaining digital counts to have been completed and for election returns to have been picked up, it will be important for the public to receive a full report on this, especially as this may have material effect in tight races. With the counts still pending at 89% as of mid-day of May 13, we estimate that some 8,000 PCOS machines had not yet transmitted their results for a variety of reasons. We recommend that a full report be given on the status of these machines and their results and that these areas be included in the Random Manual Audit. Moreover, canvassing still needs to be completed and reports submitted from many areas across the country.

– Because of the replacement of CF cards one week before elections and the occurrence of some erroneously transmitted reports, we recommend that the COMELEC not destroy any of the recalled cards nor delete any of the erroneously transmitted reports from canvassing system laptops. Under Section 27 of RA 9369, a complete review of the Automated Election System needs to be undertaken and we feel this review should include the recalled and replaced CF cards and all reports submitted for canvass.

– The Random Manual Audits (RMA) must be completed at the soonest possible time. Although RMA requires several steps, including an analysis of the root causes of any discrepancy between machine and manual counts, the COMELEC must nonetheless report to the public where these audits are taking place and what their status are. Although NAMFREL was not an accredited citizens arm for the random manual audit inspite of the presence of two retired chairpersons from the country’s two largest audit firms on its national council, NAMFREL witnessed some random manual audits in Metro Manila, particularly in San Juan and Quezon City. Our main observations were that no other observers were present for the entire process, either from the accredited citizens arm or political parties. While minor differences were found in votes counted for some candidates between the machine and manual counts, it must be noted that in at least two instances, PCOS machine counts recorded more ballots counted than there were in the ballot box. In both instances, while differences were small, they exceeded the 99.995% accuracy guaranteed by the supplier. The implementation of random manual audits remains one of the unfinished tasks of this election and an area for improvement in future elections. The raffle of precincts per Congressional district which were to be randomly selected for the manual audit was done at mid-day of election day which gave the COMELEC more than enough time to select the “clean” precincts. The raffle should have been done about two to three hours prior to closing of the polls. It must be noted that the check of hash codes per machine against the original hash codes stored in Bangko Sentral files also still needs to be completed. A full report of the audits for this election should be of help in identifying potential problem areas in the system.

– The COMELEC committed that the AES would make available to the public data which individuals could access on a precinct basis and tabulate on their own. However, neither the database of the project of precincts (or full precinct list) with the COMELEC, Smartmatic, and the accredited citizens arm nor the public website make this possible. The clustered precinct identification numbers in the database were set in such a way as to make searches and comparisons against encoded Election Returns difficult. While numbers have been assigned to each clustered precinct, it is difficult to immediately determine the locations of each precinct and the PCOS ID numbers assigned to them which would have enabled individuals, political parties, and other interested watchers to monitor the election results. Likewise, the public websites merely listed precinct data but in a manner which could not be tabulated as originally promised.

– The Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao continues to present challenges to the electoral process. We had already pointed out the potential for problems and issues, starting with the voters lists which indicated large increases in numbers of registered voters from 2007 to 2010. (Note : COMELEC records indicated a 42% increase in ARMM and 83% increase in Lanao del Sur). Moreover, the area has had a history of vote-buying, election-related violence, flying and underage voters, and vote count manipulation. In this regard, we had earlier recommended that elections be held separately and in advance in ARMM using the AES system. This would have served as both a pilot test of the system as well as a means of minimizing any other election-related risks as all COMELEC resources and attention could have been brought to bear on the region. However, new legislation is required for this. The incoming Congress should seriously consider such an approach.
 

While it is tempting to defer action on these recommendations, it is worth noting that not all tasks for May 10 have been completed yet and that the next ARMM election (for ARMM regional government) is scheduled August 2011. Presumably, the AES will be used for that election.
 
NAMFREL will continue to process the numerous incident reports it has received from all across the country and will run a comparison of its election return data against publicly available data for further analysis. A full report of all incidents reported will be made once all reports are processed.
 
In sum, the country has had a successful election. We look forward and hope for the successful conclusion of the canvassing process and proclamation. Many lessons have been learned from this exercise and it is our hope that these lessons will be processed to improve the system.

Download the statement HERE

Written by namfrel

May 14, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Ensuring Fair Elections on May 10

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Written by namfrel

May 6, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Join NAMFREL BILANG NG BAYAN and help verify the results.

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Written by namfrel

May 6, 2010 at 11:44 am

NAMFREL TO CONDUCT BILANG NG BAYAN

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The National Citizens Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) announced today that it will be conducting its independent Bilang ng Bayan operations for the May 10 election results. The Bilang ng Bayan will be based on copies of the Election Returns which will be printed by the COMELEC’s PCOS machines. Each PCOS machine will be printing 30 copies of the Election Returns at each voting precinct. The first eight copies of the Election Returns will be distributed to various COMELEC Boards of Canvassers, political parties, and accredited citizens arm. The rest of the copies will be made available to the public as well as to local political parties and local or regional media organizations.

NAMFREL announced that its Bilang ng Bayan operations will be run out of its traditional operations center at La Salle Greenhills, where it has been running its Operation Quick Count for every election since 1984.

NAMFREL stated that it had already completed its training for all its provincial chapters through six regional training sessions held in Metro Manila, Davao City, Zamboanga City, Cebu City, and San Fernando (La Union). Volunteers have been trained to collect Election Returns and to encode them into NAMFREL’s secure, encrypted website which will tabulate results on a municipal, provincial, regional, and national basis. Results from NAMFREL’s Bilang ng Bayan will be available to all media organizations and to the public through its website www.namfrel.com.ph as results are filed from its provincial units.

The Bilang ng Bayan is being conducted in partnership with CBCP-NASSA, the Protestant Church, and Ulama networks across the country. The data from Election Returns will allow NAMFREL to consolidate counts from precinct level to municipality, provincial, regional, and national levels.

NAMFREL enjoined all political parties to make sure their watchers pick up their copies of the ER so that more checks and balances are put in place.

Download the statement HERE

Written by namfrel

May 6, 2010 at 11:34 am

ALL PCOS MACHINES MUST BE RE-TESTED AND CERTIFIED ERROR-FREE

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In light of numerous problems which arose when PCOS machines were tested at voting centers and Smartmatic’s subsequent recall of the compact flash (CF) memory cards for all PCOS machines, the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) re-emphasizes the need for stronger validation measures of the accuracy of the PCOS machines through more rigorous testing of the newly-configured CF cards, an expanded Random Manual Audit (RMA), and a parallel manual run.

With all CF cards now recalled, both COMELEC and Smartmatic must submit all recalled cards and their replacement cards, including those of the spare machines, to an audit process to determine the precise configuration or programming errors. All cards must be accounted for and all replacement cards must be fully tested. Each PCOS machine contains two CF cards.

At the same time, all PCOS machines must be re-tested before elections to check that automated ballot counts match manual counts. The machines are to be tested by May 7 before they are sealed just prior to elections.

We also propose that the Random Manual Audit be conducted immediately right after the close of elections in the precinct and that an additional step of verifying the hash codes of the PCOS machine’s source code be carried out to ensure that the source code used is one and the same as the one earlier tested and kept in the Bangko Sentral for safekeeping. As machine failure appears to be quite widespread, it is prudent to increase the number of PCOS machines subject to the random manual audit from just five machines per Congressional district to three to five percent of machines per district as we had originally proposed.

While the COMELEC dismissed the proposal of the IT community and business groups for a parallel manual run to validate the machine count, the widespread failure of the machines indicates that such a validation run is necessary. This validation run is relatively simple to conduct and will only require counting a limited of number of positions on all ballots to see whether manual counts match machine-printed Election Returns.

Given the glitches in the PCOS machines and the revelation that the AES system does not have time logs, NAMFREL also requests that the COMELEC make public a copy of their procedures on how it will handle evidence – both electronic and documentary – to support cases where electoral fraud is filed or should complaints arise.

Finally, all pre-election tests should include a full test of the canvassing software and programs to be used at municipal / city, provincial, and national boards of canvassers to ensure that summations of Election Returns to Statements of Votes Cast (SOVs) and Certificate of Canvass (COCs) are carried out accurately.

The failure of the machines for any reason is a serious matter given the public funds spent on the system thus far and its negative impact on our democracy. The COMELEC, contracting parties, and accredited watchdog groups must answer to the people regarding the failure of the machines or any part of the system due to poor project management. COMELEC must see to it that these errors are corrected before election day and that those responsible for these errors and others be held accountable.

Download the statement HERE

Written by namfrel

May 6, 2010 at 11:29 am

Posted in Bantay ng Bayan