Revved up for computerized ARMM polls but how’s the clean-up of voters’ list?

A survey of the Social Weather Stations last month on “Muslim Mindanao attitudes towards democracy and elections” showed that 77% of the respondents – all Muslims — in the ARMM and neighboring areas say automation in this year’s ARMM elections will “improve the quality of elections.”

Rey Sumalipao, director of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in the six-province, two-city ARMM told the Conference on Islam, Elections and Democracy at the Grand Regal here on March 11 that Maguindanao voters will make use of the DRE where voting and counting will be automated while voters in Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Shariff Kabunsuan and the cities of  Marawi and will make use of the OMR where counting will be computerized.

The voters’ list, however, remains a major problem in the ARMM with the discovery of 100,000 multiple registrants in 2003, only 10,000 of whom had been charged, as of 2005. But even the resigned Comelec chair Benjamin Abalos said on July 18, 2005, a few days before the ARMM elections, that the 100,000 multiple registrants could still vote because they have not been convicted.

Abalos had said then that a list of multiple registrants would be furnished election officials in the ARMM so that when a multiple voter attempts to cast his or her vote, this can be contested.

“They may attempt to but if they are confronted… If you were a double registrant, if confronted, would you still insist?” Abalos asked, adding, “but if the multiple registrant insists on voting, wala kang magagawa (you can’t do anything) because he’s registered.”

Abalos said political parties were “not moving” in having the list of voters purged of multiple registrants.

Lintang Bedol, then Maguindanao election supervisor, told MindaNews that Maguindanao alone had 30,000 mutliple registrants with “1,000 under investigation.”

A hundred thousand multiple registrants in the ARMM represent 10% of the total voting population in the ARMM, a number that could make or unmake a regional or national candidate.

The presence of multiple or double registrants was discovered shortly after the registration in 2003 which required photographs and fingerprints of the registrants, computerized, among others. Sumalipao explained that as “sort of bonus” from the French supplier of the data capturing machines, the records taken were sent to France for biometric matching, hence the discovery of the multiple registrants.

Sumalipao said the figure as of July 2005 was “actually 120,000,” of whom 10,000 had been charged.

He said, on the criminal aspect of multiple voting, “we had to go through the process,” leading all the way to the filing of criminal charges against 10,000.

“That’s on the criminal aspect,” he said, adding that on the administrative side, there have been memoranda and resolutions “directing the personnel to delete from the list these 120,000 names.” He said those with names used several times to register, were deleted, “one or two names were actually deleted… so we could already expect in the coming ARMM elections that there will be no more multiple registrants but single registrants.”

But Sumalipao acknowledged it is “sad to note” that despite the continuing votes’ registration and the lapse of three years, they cannot figure out the increase in number of multiple registrants in the ARMM because “we don’t have the machines” that could do biometric matching.

“As of now, we cannot still match this biometric data because we don’t have the machines. Our matching is confined to names only, not as to fingerprints…,” Sumalipao said, adding “the machines cost so much.”

He said this is the reason why they have been appealing to the public to monitor possible multiple registrants in their areas during registration.

Comelec’s records show the last time the watchlist for double/multiple registrants, underage registrants, and alleged double/multiple registrants based on AFIS-matching results, was made in early August 2005.

Sumalipao explained that in the five provinces that will have electronic counting this year,  “the results will be automatically transmitted electronically to a back-up center and then the municipal board of canvassers then to the provincial.”  He said electronic counting “renders actual canvassing as a formality.”

He said the automation of elections in the ARMM is expected to shorten the completion of the electoral process in the region.

The start of the campaign period for the August 11 elections is on June 26. ARMM has 1.5 million registered voters as of April 20, 2007 although in last year’s election, the regional and provincial figures did not match with Comelec national’s.

In Lanao del Sur, non-governmental organizations complained that the increase in number of registered voters in Lanao del Sur from 275,572 in 2004 to 396,913 or an increase of 121,341 was “statistically improbable.

“We are beginning to think that there will always be cheating every time elections are held in Lanao del Sur,” Salic Ibrahim of the Maranao People Development Center said.

“Where did those 100,000 plus voters come from?” Ibrahim asked.

Between 2005 and 2008, Shariff Kabunsuan was carved out of  Maguindanao and several other new towns were created by the ARMM’s Regional Legislative Assembly.
(Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)