Fears of a First Time Voter in May’s Automated Elections

Davao Today
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DAVAO CITY — When farmer Rufina Parojinog, 71, casts her vote on May 10, she would encounter new election gadgets which the poll body, the Commission on Elections, assures us to be easy to use.

With her failing eyesight, she said, she might not be able to choose her candidates well among those printed on the long ballot.

She fears she might not shade the oval well and her votes might not get counted by the Precinct Counting Optical Scan (PCOS), the powerful election machine that can make or unmake candidates—or disenfranchise her as a voter—during the country’s first automated polls.

“Comelec should also give out free eyeglasses along with the new ballots,” Parojinog jokes as she talks to Davao Today after attending the voter’s education sponsored by progressive partylist groups in Bago Gallera, a village in the city’s outskirts.

Parojinog, proud for not missing any election since she was 18, is among almost a million registered voters in the city who will vote for the first time in May using the Automated Election System (AES) machine, in a country which for a hundred years relied on manual elections.

A million voters

Parojinog belongs to the city’s first district, the largest among the city’s three congressional districts in terms of voters. Davao City’s close to a million registered voters have increased by 197,762 from their last count in the 2007 midterm elections.

As of the last day for registration on December 29 last year, Comelec registered a total of 391,423 voters in the first district, or 41.27 percent of the city’s 948,428 total number of registered voters. Comelec registered 317,877 voters in the second district, or 33.5 per cent of the total number of voters; and 239,128 in the third district, which is 25 percent.

These have yet to include the new registrants during the extended voters’ registration late last year. First district election officer Danilo Cullo earlier told Davao Today that in the city’s first district alone, at least 2,400 voters availed of the late registration.

With poll automation, Comelec has grouped voters in clustered precincts as detailed in the Comelec’s project of precincts. Each cluster, which is allotted one PCOS, will have less than a thousand voters.

In the first district, 463 clustered precincts from the established 2,543 precincts will be put up in 54 barangays, where the 463 PCOS machines will be assigned.

Bucana has the biggest clustered precinct, with three schools making up for the entire voting place. Bucana will be assigned 85 PCOS machines to serve 57,688 registered voters.

Following Comelec’s clustering, a total of 1,172 PCOS machines should serve voters in the 182 Davao City villages.

PCOS machines, Comelec’s Cullo said, are easy to use. He assures voters like Parojinog to just shade the ballot, and then feed it to the machine. “Just follow what other voters are doing,” Cullo said.

“If you are a voter, there is no need for you to be computer-literate. Anyway, you wouldn’t be operating the machine. All you have to do is shade the ballot and feed it into the machine,” Cullo said.

How fast or slow the ballots are shaded depends on the voters, said Cullo. If they have difficulties, he said the “BEIs (Board of Election Inspectors) are there to assist voters.”

Three teachers assigned in each clustered precinct will compose the BEI. Each precinct will serve less than a thousand voters. In the previous manual elections, BEIs handle at least 200 voters in a precinct.

Relatives are also allowed to assist but only up to three times, Cullo said.

Pre-printed Ballots

Despite Comelec’s assurance, Parojinog’s concerns are legitimate. For her and the 50 million voters nationwide, it would be their first time to see an unfamiliar pre-printed election ballot. It will be quite unlike the manual elections where voters fill up the ballot to cast a vote.

Voters now have to sift through at least 400 names of all candidates and partylist groups printed in smaller fonts on a 14 to 17-inch ballot and to shade the names of the candidates of their choice to signify a vote. (Posted by Bulatlat.com)

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