With Due Respect

Manual and electronic count discrepancies


The discrepancies, variances or differences (or whatever the Commission on Elections wants to call them) between the manual count and the electronic count made by the PCOS machines present formidable basic problems which I think must be solved by definitive legislation.

Voters’ intent. These counting variances cannot be avoided as long as the rules for manual counting are used in auditing or checking the electronic count. The basic rule in manual counting is to discern and give effect to the voters’ intent. Thus, anything on the ballot that may show this intent should be respected.

For example, this intent can be shown by a check mark outside the ovals. Thus, a ballot with such mark is to be credited during a manual count in favor of the candidate whose name is printed nearest the mark. Sometimes, instead of shading the oval, a voter may even write down the name of the preferred candidate on the ballot. Again, in a manual count, this could arguably show the voters’ intent in favor of that candidate.

On the other hand, machines count ballots according to a program or command uploaded into them. Being machines, they do not think like humans in determining the intent of the voter.  They merely count mechanically as programmed.

In the above examples in which the oval is not shaded but check-marked or handwritten with the candidates’ names, the machines would not count the vote because they are not programmed to do so. Thus, a variance or discrepancy would arise, which may not necessarily be fraudulent. The question nonetheless remains: Which count—the manual or the electronic—should be used in determining the winner?

Early jurisprudence. In an early case, Loong v Comelec (April 14, 1999), our Supreme Court said that the manual count should prevail. By way of background, this case arose from the first experiment on automated elections conducted during the May 11, 1998, polls in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Like the 2010 and 2013 elections, the 1998 ARMM experiment involved the use of preprinted ballots with ovals that were to be shaded by the voters. However, the counting was not done at the precincts. Instead, the ballots were brought by the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) to the voting centers where machines counted them electronically. The results of the electronic count were preserved in a diskette; later, the entries were consolidated and used to proclaim the winners.

One day after the polls, on May 12, 1998, while the automated counting was being conducted at the voting center, three election watchers noted that in the precinct where they voted, their candidate obtained a zero vote, which they protested was impossible.

After examining the ballots, technicians determined that the counting problem was caused by the erroneous printing of the ballots—the ovals had not been properly aligned to the names of the candidates. The local Comelec office stopped the automated counting in the entire province of Sulu, not just in the precinct concerned.

All the ballots were thereafter brought to the Comelec head office in Manila where the poll body ordered the simultaneous electronic and manual counting of all the ballots for the entire province of Sulu, not just from the precinct and municipality where the error was found. Nonetheless, only a manual count was actually conducted. No electronic count was in fact made.

SC ruling and dissent. Upholding the manual count and denying the losing candidate’s prayer for a special election, the Supreme Court ruled that “[t]he correctness of the manual count cannot be doubted… The naked eyes could see the check marks opposite the big ovals,” thereby implying that the voters’ intent, the basic rule in manual counts, should prevail.

I dissented on the ground that the rules for manual counting provided by the Omnibus Election Code and by the Comelec assumed that the ballots were to be filled out by the handwritten entries of the candidates’ names, not by the mere shading of the preprinted ovals. The erroneous use of these manual rules necessarily produced results “not reflective of the automated count.”

In short, the ARMM experiment taught us that rules on how to manually read automated ballots should be carefully studied and enacted into law by Congress. Using the rules on manual counting will always show a discrepancy or variance between the manual and machine results. Unless these rules are enacted soon, losers in closely contested automated elections will always demand a manual recount.

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Servant leadership. Awesome and spirit-filled was the gathering of the leaders of the various parishes and lay organizations in the Archdiocese of Manila held yesterday and the day before (June 15 and 14) at the huge SMX Convention Center in Pasay City.

Led by Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle and attended by 1,000 devotees, the conference discussed the “embodiment of servant leadership with Jesus Christ as role model.” The speakers included Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, Bishop Broderick Pabillo, Msgr. Gerry Santos, Sr. Maria Consolata Manding, and Catholic lay leaders Barbara de los Reyes, Francisco Padilla, Selene Yu and yours truly.

Congratulations to the Serviam Charismatic Community for sponsoring this meeting, supported by Metrobank Foundation, Megaworld Foundation, Phinma Foundation, BPI, SM, Resorts World, PSBank, Unilab, Inquirer,, Manila Bulletin, Philippine Star, Veritas, dzRH, dzIQ, etc. Mabuhay po kayong lahat.

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  • juan_liwanag

    If you want our country to have efficient and fairly honest election, then we have no recourse but to continue automating our elections. As the number of voters grow, relying on manual counting would become so tedious and slow and so susceptible to manipulation. The automated election may have its limitations, but they could be overcome with voters’ education. Our experience in elections show the increasing problem of Filipinos with following even simple rules. It is the fault of the voter if the machine could not count his/her vote because he/she did not follow the rule that should allow his/her vote to be counted. Let us not fault the system; let us educate our voters.

    • josh_alexei

      And Automation (or Electronic Data Processing) will open to more possibilities, including, easier REgistration of voters, and even on line, or even the eventuality of Permanent Voters Lists that will do away with the very tedious task of regular Registration and purging of voters data…and it will help in the check and balance of campaign and contribution to Election campaign funding by electronically monitoring the data…These are doable and in Fact already been DONE.

  • josh_alexei

    Mr. Panganiban, here is the deal… and here is what we do…the Election Official will note every ballot box, the number of ballot cast, the tally of votes to each Candidate, the spoiled ballots, the rejected ballots, unused ballots, etc..and returned the cast ballot in the ballot box, with the copy of the Count and sealed it and can not be opened unless by the order of the if the ballot box has to be opened (and there may be a hundred in one contested area or district or riding) then which ever counting the Judge will order the ballot will be again looked including the spoiled ballots, the rejected ballots to Determine the Winner…in case the difference in vote is something like 1/1000 between the winner and the loser, then it is Auto Recount and the court will again do the ordering and the recount will be witnessed by a Judge…I believe this process is very Straightforward and does not need any SC rulings.

  • farmerpo

    Given the scenario of marks out of the oval designated, the solution is to simply educated or tell the voters on how to mark the ballot properly as the voters are handed the ballot. Arguably, even this will not totally eliminate such errors but they can be kept to the minimum. Automation is the only solution to the persistent problems we have had in our elections. It is getting better, and that can’t be argued. Computers, no matter how dumb, are our best tools is such repetitive tasks.

    • gryzyxwoz


  • nice_boy

    A voter who checks the oval or writes the name of the candidate instead of shading the oval is a stupid voter. His vote should not be counted. We have rules and any voter who does not follow the rule should suffer the penalty of disenfranchisement. When we do not implement our rules strictly, no one will respect it.

    • novaliches

      Kung matanda ka na at pasmado pa ang kamay mo, tignan ko lang kung hindi mahirap mag-shade ng oval. meron lalagpas, discrimatory ito sa mga tao na pasmado ang kamay. maski si Ali (boxer) hindi na pala makakaboto.


    Oversupply of lawyers and retired justices in the Philippines would make the decision- making imbalance…
    “Imbalance” because of the likes of Panganiban who sees everything the yellow way…
    Yellows have their own world…it’s devoid of economic reality…

    • gryzyxwoz


  • novaliches

    Automation is great as long as it is not discriminatory to others, shading the “oval” is not the only way to automation. I had been voting here in the states for more than 20 years, I never voted using the “oval” system. there are other ways to vote using machine. Try shading that oval if you hands are shaking or dont have a good eye sight, this PCOS system is discriminatory to old or disable people.

  • Edgar Lores

    If the government adopts technology that is inconsistent with existing law, then the law should be updated. In this case the Executive (COMELEC) should have advised the Congress to amend the legislation.

    But (a) if the the law is not updated through some oversight and (b) if the Judiciary sticks to the letter of the law — when patently the letter is no longer applicable — then the Judiciary would be unwise to reject the totality of the new technology. Literally unwise. The Judiciary would not be keeping up with the figurative spirit of the law. In this case, the Judiciary was happily wise.

    Having said that, the COMELEC should arrive at an automated voting system that takes into consideration (a) the capabilities of the voters of all ages and (b) the proper dissemination of new voting procedures.

  • tarikan

    Mr. ex-Cj, with due respect, how many check marks or names of candidates written on the oval instead of shading it were there in the last election, 25, 150 nationwide? Kahit yung mga mang-mang pagsinabihan ng mga pol clerks na shadan ang oval ay kayang gawin. Yung example nyu na hindi aligned ang oval doon sa pangalan ng kandidato eh ibang usapan yun pero na-shadan ang oval. Kahit sa Florida nangyari yun kaya natalo si Gore ni Bush.

  • tarikan

    While we are in this issue of shading the oval, may I ask the authorities concerned if they consulted for example the psychiatrists, psychologists, scientists, engineers as to the efficacy of the “oval” shape. I mean is it easier for the oval shape to be shaded than the “circle or round”? I am an engineer and I find it much easier to shade a circle than the oval or ellipse. A circle has a constant radius while the oval/ellipse has a variable one. Come to think of it Mr. Comelec.

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