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Friday, May 07, 2004

Elections in the Light of Technology

Some events at the eve of the elections have shed light to the bleak view the Elections I used to have.

I was at the Namfrel briefing last Wednesday evening at the AIM, Makati.

I'm all excited for two reasons:
First, this will be my most active role in the elections by far. My next most active role was back in 2001 when I peeled one whole kaing of potatoes for food being prepared for PPCRV volunteers.

Second, the SMS and call-center technology introduced by NAMFREL in this year's quick count will be another feather in the hat for the Philippines' SMS achievements.

Technology in elections

The Computerized Elections has been junked. We'll be doing manual elections. But nothing is stopping the private sector and NGOs from using technology to help out in the elections.

The Election Call Center run by the Jesuit Volunteers Philippines Foundation, Inc. entertains calls from the voting populace. They can assist callers in getting information about candidates profiles, your precinct, exit polls and surveys and more.

I gave them a call this morning. My call was received by Fleur (french for "flower", I learned from reading the "Da Vinci Code"). Fleur easily answered my first question about the correct way of filling out a ballot. I also asked her which precinct I am assigned to. She took my full name and my birthdate and keyed in these information unto her computer. I could here the keyboard tapping in the background. Fleur said that unfortunately, their system was experiencing some technical problems at that time. She took down my phone number and said she'll call me back with the information I requested.

The NAMFREL Text Brigade. NAMFREL will be using SMS for this year's Quick Count. Isn't that such a refreshing technology and political breakthrough? I think that like the SMS-enabled rallies against ERAP, this SMS-enabled Quick Count will once again put the Philippines in the international news for technology, governance and empowerment.

Here's how the SMS-enabled Quick Count will work. At field, there will be Texting volunteers. These texting volunteers will be sending results from the precinct-level Election Returns from their Cellphones straight to the NAMFREL HQ. These figures will be validated through other texting volunteers and NAMFREL officers. NAMFREL will then consolidate all these figures at HQ. Such an elegant solution, don't you think?

NAMFREL hopes that the quick count will be finished by 7 days, if all goes well. Compare that to the 30 days it used to take to do the "quick" count. Much quicker than the 75 (?) days that the Comelec does the count. But I'm thinking, with the SMS reporting, NAMFREL could possibly pull-off this quick count in as short as 3 days! There are only a few reasons the Texting Volunteers won't be submitting results in the first three days, I think.

Here comes another technology component of the NAMFREL quick count. NAMFREL will be running a call center with more than 100 phone lines. This 24-hour call center will provide technical support for Texting volunteers. The call center will assist and follow up Texting volunteers in regional NAMFREL offices to submit their reports.

I've signed up in three 9-hour shifts to man the 24-hour call center. I've also volunteereed to help out in the technical team of NAMFREL.

Frankly, I'm impressed by NAMFREL. They've ironed things out rather smoothly. The introduction of elegant technology solutions, the involvement of hundreds or thousands of volunteers, the security they will be providing in the Head Quarters, the food, the facilities. It's a blessing that we have groups like NAMFREL, JVPFI, PPCRV and others which will complement the "shortcomings" of the COMELEC.

"It is better to a candle
Than to curse the darkness"

- from the Namfrel Logo

God Bless us all!

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