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First automated overseas voting in HK and Singapore set April 10

Posted on: February 24, 2010

First automated overseas voting in HK and Singapore set April 10
By Anna Valmero
INQUIRER.net First Posted 16:45:00 02/24/2010 Filed Under: Elections, Overseas Absentee Voting, Eleksyon 2010

MANILA, Philippines—The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is gearing up for the conduct of the first automated overseas absentee voting in Hong Kong and Singapore come April 10, an official said Wednesday.

Comelec Commissioner Armando Velasco, who heads the committee on overseas absentee voting (COAV), said the poll agency would visit the two countries to educate personnel of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on how to operate the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines when they perform poll duties as deputized staff for OAV for the May polls. DFA was tapped to cut travel expenses.

Specifically, DFA personnel would be deputized to serve as special board of election inspectors (SBEIs), Special Ballot Reception and Custody Group (SBRCG) and Special Board of Canvassers (SBOC) for the May polls.

The poll official said this would allow Comelec to hold an actual automated voting ahead of the May 10 elections in the country.

“We would have an advanced actual (use) of the automated machine and we (would) see the accuracy and reliability of automation for casting of votes and feeding of ballots (into) the machines, although the transmission would only be at the same time of close of polls here in the country,” he said.

Nineteen PCOS machines would be deployed for the 95,355 voters in Hong Kong and seven for the 31,851 OFWs in Singapore, with four standby units in case of machine breakdown. Each poll machine is configured to process and count the ballots of up to 5,000 voters during the 30-day voting period, said Velasco.

“We chose to automate the voting in these two countries due to proximity to the country (Philippines) and the large population of registered OAVs, which when combined comprises 21 percent of the total OAV population. We would visit Singapore on February 28 to March 2 and then Hong Kong on March 2 to 4 to train the DFA personnel on their functions for the overseas absentee voting and to check their transmission facilities,” Velasco told INQUIRER.net

“We have high confidence they will perform their assigned duties because some of them are consuls and ambassadors,” said Velasco.

Comelec would also perform an end-to-end demonstration of the PCOS operation from scanning of ballots and counting of votes up until transmission of generated election returns (ERs) to Comelec’s data servers.

Velasco expressed confidence on the security measures of the Philippine embassies to house the PCOS machines.

He added Comelec is drafting guidelines on how to safeguard poll machines—which would be used on April 10 to May 10, including weekends—against hacking.

Employment of watchers on the PCOS machines and ballots, the use of CCTV cameras and reconfiguration of the machines to scan and store only ballot information fed during the voting hours are among their options, Velasco added.

The two DFA teams in Hong Kong and Singapore, who will conduct the first automated polls, would also be allowed to personally fill up the special paper ballots for automation and feed them to the poll machines, as part of the actual demonstration, said Velasco.

Meanwhile, Comelec is also holding until Friday the training for DFA personnel, including ambassadors and consuls, in Asian countries, where manual balloting, either in person or through mail, would be conducted.

Similar trainings would be conducted for embassies in Madrid for DFA personnel in European countries and in Los Angeles for those in the United States, both on March 10-12; and in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi for DFA staff in the Middle East.

Velasco said that 138,113 Filipinos in 47 countries abroad have opted to vote by mail while 324,511 OFWs decided to vote in person at Philippine posts and consulates abroad. The two types of voting—by mail and in person—would be done manually, as voters would have to write the names of theirs candidates for president, vice president, senators, and party-list group on their ballots.

Comelec COAV allocated P188 million for the conduct of manual balloting abroad, said Velasco.

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