Monday, May 21, 2007

Surprise! Comelec outpaces Namfrel ‘quick count’ tally

By Norman Bordadora, Cathy C. Yamsuan
Last updated 02:39am (Mla time) 05/22/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- The usually slow count by the Commission on Elections became the “quick count” when its tally of votes exceeded that of the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel).

As of Monday afternoon, the Comelec count for leading senatorial candidate Loren Legarda had reached the 7-million mark.

Namfrel’s count as of early morning Monday put Legarda’s votes at more than 6.3 million.

Batch 22, or the Namfrel update released at 8:40 a.m. Monday, said the latest figures came from 94,206 precincts, or about 42 percent of all precincts nationwide.

The faster-than-usual Comelec count prompted former Comelec Chair Christian Monsod to suggest that Namfrel’s tally be called a “parallel count” instead of a “citizens’ quick count.”

A Namfrel official said the group was not engaged in a race with the Comelec.

Monsod said that while the Comelec always caught up with Namfrel, it did so three days earlier this year than in the 2004 elections.

“Usually, the Comelec catches up with Namfrel on the ... 10th day. This year, it did so on the seventh day,” he said.

Was Namfrel a bit slower this year following bugs in its software and glitches in its Internet connection?

“No. In fact, Namfrel was faster this year than in 2004 (if you compare the number of votes counted in as many days after the elections),” Monsod said.

“Maybe the Comelec was a bit faster,” he said.

Monsod said there was nothing irregular about the Comelec catching up with Namfrel.

ERs and CoCs

While Namfrel starts counting the votes before the Comelec, it bases its tallies on 300,000 or so election returns (ERs).

The Comelec bases its official count on only about 140 certificates of canvass (CoCs) made at the provincial level.

“Namfrel starts its count at the precinct level. Depending on the number of precincts in a municipality or city, the Comelec has 20 or so tabulation committees in every municipality or city,” Monsod said.

“Namfrel can’t match that number of people with its volunteers,” he said.

While the Comelec starts its national canvassing later than Namfrel, it only has to go through more than a hundred CoCs.

“Now, the Comelec doesn’t start to count the votes (for national positions like senator) until it reaches the provincial level. Although, (the commissioners) start late, they only have to go through 130 to 140 CoCs,” Monsod said.

Verification process

The verification process being followed by Namfrel is slowing down its count.

Namfrel chair Edward Go earlier said Namfrel did not immediately include newly arrived tabulations until after these were verified.

Add to this the fact that Namfrel employs several steps of checking and counterchecking before it releases updates to media.

Go dismissed allegations that Namfrel was selecting data only from some areas to establish a pattern in favor of certain candidates.

“We do not do any kind of trending. We do not select the data to be posted. Everything depends on the flow of reports from the field and how quickly these are verified,” he said.

Eric Alvia, Namfrel secretary general, said the group’s quick count would eventually catch up with that of the Comelec.

“There will be a point of convergence. Even if the Comelec has already reached 7 million, the important issue is whether our count is accurate,” Alvia said.

Namfrel is holding its quick count operations at the La Salle gym in Greenhills, San Juan. School officials have given Namfrel only until Thursday, May 24 to use the gym.

“We are still hopeful that the pace will quicken,” Go said at a press conference early Monday afternoon.

In case the quick count is not completed by then, “hopefully we will be given an extension,” Alvia said in a radio interview.