First OAV Experience in Hongkong by lifemate

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									First OAV Experience in Hongkong
Daphne Ceniza-Kuok (CMA Board Member, CMA-HK)
Presented at the Post-OAV Round Table Discussion
July 6, 2004, Bayview Park Hotel, Manila


The Overseas Absentee Voting Law (OAV) was ratified in February 2003, five
months before the start of the registration period. The late passage of the law
did not give Hongkong much time to define the tasks needed for its
implementation and to set up the organization necessary to handle the first
voter’s registration in the territory. The five months between passage and
registration period gave OAV advocates barely enough time to discuss the
different nuances of the law to members of the community nor was it enough time
to launch a massive voter’s education campaign. Nevertheless, Hongkong went full
swing with its dissemination drive to inform the people about the overseas
absentee voting law. The next 5 months was spent preparing for the August-
September voters' registration where Hongkong and Macau registered 89,573
voters. Hongkong was able to register 63% of the Filipino population in Hongkong
in its first OAV registration.

There was not even time to catch our breath and reflect on the task at hand as
we prepared for the first OAV exercise in Hongkong. As much as we
would have like to delve into voters education, most of our energies and
resources were spent on informing the people of the OAV law and in
setting up the mechanism and organization to register voters in preparation for
the May election.

This paper is a feeble attempt to look into the implementation of the Overseas
Absentee Voting in Hongkong which had been awesome, exciting and traumatic to
some of us who have been involved in the process.

The first part is a narrative of its implementation; the second part will
discuss the problems encountered while the last part are the recommendations
culled from members of the community.

ELECTION:
Twenty-two special Board of Election Inspectors were organized to supervise the
first Overseas Absentee voting in Hongkong. The total number of persons who
voted in Hongkong and Macau was 64,040. The average turnout on Sundays was 7,000
people except on the first Sunday when there was a rally in Central. The
Consulate and Bayanihan Trust in cooperation with the Hongkong Police were able
to manage the crowd that queued outside Bayanihan at a constant of 30 meters by
the second Sunday of the election. It was noted that the speed of processing
voters differ among SBEI's depending on the volume of voters that turned up on a
particular SBEI/precinct on a particular Sunday. There were some complaints on
some SBEI’s, which took longer than the other precincts in processing voters,
The following system was adapted by the Consulate to manage the flow of voters:

1. Briefing of Voters
Attempts were made though not consistently due to the lack of personnel to brief
voters while they were queuing outside Bayanihan. They were directed to go to
the holding area at the 3rd Floor where they queued to have their names verified
in the computers. They were also warned that some ID's had discrepancies while
some did not arrived and that their names may not be in the Certified List of
Overseas Absentee voters (CLOAV) to minimize pressure on the ID releasing teams.
The same procedure was done at the reception area of Bayanihan during weekdays.

2. Holding and verification area
Color coded lines where placed on the hallways leading to the verification area,
the precincts and the exits to direct voters. Voters were first directed to wait
at the holding area to have their names verified before they were directed to
the polling areas. Voters were also given their sequence numbers and precinct
location at the verification area.
Delays were caused when voter's names were not found in the computers. Verifiers
then try to look for the names manually in the CLOAV or at the list of
addendums. Verifiers were instructed to list down names and ID numbers of
registrants whose names were not found in the CLOAV or in the computers. It was
later found out that tracing them in the Philippines was easier when their
contact details in the Philippines was supplied.

3. Polling Area
Voters are then directed to their polling places where on Sundays, they have to
queue again outside the precincts. Voters stand on queue outside the precincts
at an average of 30minutes- 1 hour during peak hours. It was 1-2 hours on the
first 2 weeks.

4. ID Releasing Area
Voters who do not yet have their voters' ID pass through the ID releasing area
on their way to the exit.

5. Counting
The Consulate had a hard time looking for people who will man the Special Board
of Election Inspectors (SBEI’s) for voting due to the COMELEC rule that SBEI's
be in the precincts at all times during the 30 days voting period. There was
also difficulty in finding manpower from the Consulate and from the community to
man the precincts for counting. Most Filipinos in Hongkong are domestic helpers.
They only have one day off every week.
The suggested number of ballots to be counted per precincts was 500 ballots but
the lack of manpower and space to accommodate more than the 75 SBEI's/precincts
that were set up pushed the number of ballots to be counted to 838 ballots per
precincts.

Problems Encountered

REGISTRATION:
We went into the registration period while learning in the process how to
properly organize registration. We solicited help from the 230
organizations registered in the Hongkong Consulate and got a very good
response from the community. More than 165 volunteers were organized to
man the more than 10 committees set up to facilitate voters
registration consisting of the speaker's bureau, area coordinators,
Information, call center, FilComm, appointment, food, reception, media
bureau, reserve pool, information, and volunteers who will
serve as marshals were recruited.
We realized during implementation that we could be more effective with a leaner
but better organized organization. We also realized it was more effective to
enlist individual volunteers rather than through organizations as the
secretariat had more control over the volunteers' schedule rather than relying
on information gathered from organizations. Many of those who volunteered came
for only an hour. This affected their ability to appreciate and understand their
assigned task.
VENUE
The Consulate and Worldwide were not big enough to accommodate the crowd
who came to register. People sacrificed by queuing in the stairwell of
the two buildings and queued up for up to three hours just to file their
registration forms. Both the election and the registration process amplified the
need of the Filipino community in Hongkong to have it's own building considering
the size of the Filipino population in Hongkong. We spent more than two months
searching for a venue for the electoral exercise. There were no property
managers who would allow us to sign a contract of lease for only one month. We
also heard from real estate agents that property managers dread the idea of
having thousands of people crowding their properties as was the experience in
Worldwide and the Consulate during the registration period and during the
distribution of the voters’ ID's.

REGISTRATION FORMS
We have found that most of our kababayans are not comfortable in filling up
forms. They needed assistance in filling up the data and a user-friendlier
format. Confusion on the space provided for the applicants’ address on election
day and the space for the contact person's address in the Philippines resulted
to the applicant being registered in the Philippines or not being registered at
all. Some applicants placed their addresses in the space provided for seafarers.
It was found later that most of the names listed in the list of Seafarers, were
actually land-based voters who made a mistake in filling up the forms.
A lot of applicants ended having the birth date of their spouses in their ID's
due to the placement of the space for birth date just under the name of spouse.
The conflicting instructions on how to treat forms of registrants who placed
their addresses in the space for seafarers added more to the confusion.
The names of qualified registrants in the master list (hardcopy), the COMELEC
website and the list of votes do not match.

VOTERS' ID'S
The voters verification area and the ID releasing teams bore the brunt of the
frustration of the people whose names were not in the CLOAV and those whose ID's
did not arrived or those whose ID's had discrepancies.
A big number of registrants did not receive their voter's ID's while some
received it with their pictures, signatures and thumb prints missing on the
ID's.
Some registrants received their voters' ID's even when their names were missing
on the CLOAV.

COUNTING
Distributing 838 ballots per SBEI made counting tedious and prolonged.
The situation stretched the counting to 58 hours, which stretched the limits of
endurance of the SBEI's. Extreme fatigue lead to the inability of the SBEI's to
focus, which caused the votes of some precincts to be recounted.
The preliminaries to counting stretched up to 6 hours, some precincts were only
able to start counting at 10:00pm on May 10. A lot of time was wasted on the
opening of the envelopes grouping the ballots into hundreds recounting bundles
of ballots when discrepancies between the tally of the SBRCG and the actual
ballot received occurred.
One volunteer had hyperventilation, some simply walked out while some barely
lasted through the filing of election returns. The Consul General was forced to
allow the SBEI's to sleep in their precincts.

CANVASSING
The canvassing was a non-event except for the delay of one hour and a half due
to a missing page of an election return. The missing page was found later. We
cannot afford any recrimination as we were aware that the SBEI chairmen who came
to deliver the election returns were exhausted. Their discomfort was further
aggravated when they found they had to wait for their election returns to be
canvassed before they could go home. The Special Board of Canvassers was forced
to declare a recess at 5:45am on May 13 in consideration to the state of the
SBEI's and the lack of attention on the part of the poll watchers who were also
exhausted.

LOGISTICS
It was found that the registration forms sent by the COMELEC was insufficient.
The first batch of 65,000 forms were used up on the first week. These forms were
not mass distributed by the second week as much was wasted when forms were left
at home when registrants come to register. A lot of forms were also wasted when
mistakes were made in filling up the forms. Volunteer marshals were asked to
assist registrants in filling up the forms and in checking that it was properly
filled before it was verified. It is during this process when it was found that
volunteers, who only volunteer for an hour with insufficient training, caused
more delay due to their inability to properly check the forms.
Food for the staff and volunteers were provided on Sundays through donations
from the community during the registration period. It became more difficult
during election when stringent rules on donations were imposed.

SBRCG
The 3-member SBRCG Main could hardly cope up with the inventory especially the
bulk of election forms and supplies received from the COMELEC. It should be
noted that SBRCG members are still required to use the 8 hours lull between
reception and custody to discharge their regular consular duties.
It was noted that the materials received were hastily packed. This made
accounting and inventory for each document/paraphernalia difficult and tedious.
The protective cover pads of the ballots were already detached when it arrived
in Hongkong. Some of the security tapes do not have enough adhesives in it. It
opened easily compromising the sanctity of the ballots and causing doubts in the
minds of the electorate.
The OAVF-6 (Envelopes for Official Ballots) was found to be unnecessarily large
in comparison to the ballots placed inside. This has greatly increased the
number and weight of packages received and probably affected shipping costs too.

MANPOWER
Posts with a high concentration of voters are hard-pressed to continue
delivering consular, protocol, assistance-to-nationals, trade, tourism,
cultural, etc. services to the community.
Practically all Consulate personnel have been reporting for work seven days a
week for OAV-related duties in addition to their regular duties at the Consulate
since January.
The Consulate was forced to close its regular Consular services from May 10-17
due to lack of manpower. This has caused indignation among members of the
community who needed the Consulates' assistance.
Despite its efforts the Consulate was attack daily in the radio in Manila and
Hongkong. It will not be an exaggeration if we describe the OAV implementation
in Hongkong as traumatic for the consular staff.

Recommendations/Questions
CLOAV
1. One of the causes of the disenfranchisement of OAV voters is rooted on the
     format of the OAV Voters registration forms. Registration forms should be
     reformatted to make it user friendly to registrants.
2.   The Certified List of Overseas Absentee Voters should be thoroughly
     checked and updated. A lot of the domestic helpers who lost their jobs and
     have registered in Hongkong are now in the Philippines. Almost all of them
     did not ask the post for the transfer of their names. These voters will
     not be able to vote in the Philippines since their names are still in the
     List of Overseas Absentee Voters.
3.   Diplomatic Posts should be given timely and effective notice of any
     addenda in the Certified List of Overseas Absentee Voters so that
     concerned Filipino nationals are duly informed of their
     inclusion/exclusion in the list.
4.   Post should likewise be provided in a complete and timely manner with an
     updated list of disapproved/rejected registration applications. The reason
     for disapproval should be clearly stated.
5.   The local Election Registration Boards should be thoroughly briefed on the
     Overseas Absentee Voting Law. We have encountered a case in Hamtic Antique
     were registrants application to register were turned down with no reasons
     provided. The three individuals were able to vote on the second to the last
     day after clearance was obtained from COMELEC.
6.   COMELEC should set up guidelines on the appreciation of the order of a
     registrants’ surname in cases where a registrant has a multiple surname i.e.
     De la Cruz, dela Cerna, de Vega. In a Post like Hongkong where we experienced
     a deluge of voters on Sundays, volunteers sometime are too harassed to find
     whether or not a registrant is listed in the "de la" section or in the "Cruz"
     section of the CLOAV.
7.   May we call on Congress to review the rules on the filing of appeals for
     registrants whose application had been denied by the Election Registration
     Board(ERB)in their respective municipalities. The registrant has to go
     through a tedious and difficult process of filing a petition for
     reconsideration with the Municipal Trial Court in his/her municipality in the
     Philippines with time for filing set at five days from the receipt of notice
     of disapproval from the ERB. Since many of the applicants in Hongkong are
     foreign domestic helpers, they have neither the resources nor time to file
     petitions for reconsideration.
8.   COMELEC should look into the possibility of finding a program for the
     biometric machine that will point out/minimize human errors in encoding.
     Some of the discrepancies may be probably caused by human error or due to
     mistakes arising from the lack of time to properly brief encoders.
9.   COMELEC should set immediately guidelines on the treatment of voters whose
     names were missing in the CLOAV.

VOTERS' IDs
1. Voters' ID should be completed first and not shipped in batches. COMELEC
   should provide Posts with a list of those whose ID's are still pending
   so that it's owner will be informed.
2. COMELEC should provide Posts with a clear reason for errors,
   discrepancies, and/or lack of information/data on IDs as well as the
   procedure to be observed in reporting any discrepancies for corrections.
   These guidelines should be received before Voters' IDs are shipped out and
   distributed by Posts to registered voters.
3. COMELEC has to clarify whether or not, ID's with discrepancies of data,
   those with missing photos, thumbprint and signatures will be reissued.
   COMELEC has to announce when the missing IDs, reissued ID's arrive in
   Hongkong and should designate a body who will distribute it. The Consulate
   in Hongkong had to assign at least 10 people to find, sort and distribute
   IDs at the height of the distribution period. The Post also requires
   advice on the distribution of IDs that are still in   its hands as of this
   date.
4. The COMELEC and the DFA should consider that having   the voters' verification,
   voters' ID distribution and voting at the same time   has stretched the
   Consulate staff beyond its limits thereby affecting   its efficiency.

COUNTING
1. The Hongkong experience magnifies the urgent need to begin the process of
   acquiring automated counting machine to minimize the cost and to address
   the problem of lack of manpower in the implementation of the OAV law. It
   will be noted that other developing countries such as Mexico and India
   have already implemented computerizes counting of election in 2000 and
   2004. Winners were proclaimed within 5 hours after polls closed in Mexico in
   2000. Results were known in India which has several million voters after
   days. There were likewise reports that Bangladesh will be utilizing automated
   counting in their succeeding election.
   The difficulties encountered in the filling of registration forms during our
   first OAV voters' registration should be considered when we have automated
   counting. The Posts need ample time to train voters how to fill their
   ballots. Counting machines are case sensitive, voters have to be taught how
   to fill the spaces properly so as not to invalidate their votes or ballots.

2. If for some reason the COMELEC is unable to implement automated elections in
   2007, the number of SBEI's for counting will have to be expanded. Preparation
   should be made to look for a bigger venue as the Bayanihan Center was already
   operating beyond its capacity with 75 SBEI's for counting. The creation of
   accredited satellite counting areas should be considered to answer the space
   requirements.
   Efforts should be made to limit the number of ballots to be counted to 200(7-
   10hours) per SBEIs instead of 700-800(48 hours). Allotting 700-800 ballots
   per precincts affected the SBEI's efficiency and is beyond human endurance.
   Some SBEIs needed to conduct a few recounts to balance/reconcile their tally
   sheets to the number of ballots counted.

3. Review the existing procedures for voting, particularly the use of an
   envelope for individual ballots. Congress and COMELEC may wish to consider
   other means of securing the sanctity of the ballot other than the procedure
   of having to place these inside an envelope which takes additional time in
   both the voting and the pre-counting phases. Not a few members of the
   community commented on the expense the government is spending on these
   envelopes.

4. Reconsider the 30-day voting period for land-based voters and the 60-day
   period for sea-based voters in terms of the vast amount of human and material
   resources required. Possible means of off setting the effects of a shorter
   voting period(eg. 1 week) on turnout should be studied. Among these would be
   to deputize more SBEIs for voting and counting as well as the establishment
   of satellite voting centers. A shorter voting period will likewise minimize
   any possibility of trending, which is unavoidable in a prolonged voting
   period.

SBRCG
A system for packing all items to be shipped should be established in
anticipation of how these items will be opened for appropriate accounting. The
quality of materials should be tested before purchased.
The ideal is that election paraphernalia should already be packed for each
precinct to minimize handling by persons from post.
Election Paraphernalia
A review on the number of forms an SBEI should fill up and the manner of filling
it up should be reviewed to make it less tedious. Putting ones thumbprint and
signature in several pages of election returns may look impressive but is not
fool proof when one considers that the one who's been filing it had been without
sleep for 48 hours.
The possibility of integrating the protest, challenge and decision should be
studied. In the eyes of the Hongkong Filipino Community where no protest was
lodge, the presence of these documents are reminders of the expense OAV entailed
and wastage.
The format of forms must be reviewed thoroughly as the voters' registration form
and Form 2 where the spaces provided for the serial numbers of ballots were two
small.
It is also noted that the tally sheets provided using brown paper is easily torn
and is not user friendly. The headings "COMELEC" etc. uses up 1/3rd of the tally
sheet. Such space could have been used to make the candidates' names and the
space for the "tara" bigger.
Perforations on the ballots and the voters ID were so bad, ID releasing
volunteers and SBEI's had to use scissors to separate the documents.

House Rules
House rules on the conduct of media, poll watchers and citizens arm should be
properly defined and disseminated before the exercise to avoid confusion and
irritation during election.

Poll watchers who were not properly briefed of their roles have disrupted
proceedings. They have raised doubts to the integrity of the proceedings without
launching a formal complaint.

MODE OF VOTING FOR SEAFARERS
Congress may wish to reconsider the possibility of allowing seafarers to vote by
mail instead of voting in person so as to encourage more of them to register and
vote. As in the case of seafarers, they are hardly in control of their
itineraries and may find themselves unable to vote in the country where they
registered even with a 60-day voting period.

DONATIONS
Hongkong was able to implement the OAV law with the assistance and donations
(i.e. food, toilet papers, Clorox, soap, gloves for cleaning etc.) from the
community. It will make OAV implementation too costly for any post with a
population similar to Hongkong to rely on the budget from Manila. Can standards
and guidelines be set as to the solicitation and handling of donations?

The lack of time to prepare and to brief people on the OAV affected the
implementation of the law. Rules evolved as registration and voting progressed.
Confusion on the non-disclosure of daily tabulation of voters who voted has
caused irritation between the Consulate and certain secto
rs of the community.

Reflections on the Hongkong's first OAV exercise
The first thing that comes into every body's mind after the first Overseas
Absentee voting exercise in Hongkong is whether or not, the exercise had been
worth it.

I had doubts after seeing the exhaustion, resentment on the faces of our SBEIs
when they came to the Consulate's hall for the canvassing. I had doubts when I
saw the winners' list and saw that most of those who won, won on the basis of
name recall and personality rather than their integrity, track record and
commitment to serve.

I had doubts when I heard the complaints on the Consulates' inability to serve
when it closed on May 10-17 and saw the Consulates' helplessness to do anything
due to lack of manpower and available people to hire. I was further discouraged
when I saw the unrest even among some of our SBEI's who were unwilling to walk
the extra mile as there was no other choice. My thoughts dwelled whether or not,
we deserve to exercise this right at all when all we do is ask and complain.

I had doubts when no one from the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee came
to see and feel how difficult things had been for us. How can they review the
OAV law when they have not seen the conditions the different Diplomatic Post
have to go through just to make OAV a reality. Will they be reviewing the law
based on their imagination?

I had doubts when only over 350,000 registered during the registration period.

The law has been crafted amidst an atmosphere of distrust on our voters and
hopelessness among the citizenry.

Has our Messianic tendencies ruled us when we pushed for the passage of the law
without thinking of the practical realities in implementing it?

But I have seen how the Consulate had pushed itself to properly implement the
law, to protect the sanctity of the ballot and the integrity of the results.

The vision of a Con-Gen pushing and cleaning tables, serving coffee and arroz
caldo, a servant leader was etched in my mind. I saw the secretariat trying to
hold out to last so many nights without sleep bearing the complaints that come
their way. I saw our four pastors who volunteered to be our marshals during the
whole exercise serving coffee and biscuits from midnight to dawn. Two were
eventually drafted as SBEI’s when two volunteers walked out. An SBEI Chair tried
to last through the counting in spite of a vertigo attack, she was still
thinking of how to finish the counting on the way to the ambulance that brought
her to the hospital.

I saw a “lola” trying to make it to the third floor holding area of Bayanihan,
she was willing to climb more stairs just to cast her vote for the first time in
20 years. A pregnant woman who looked like she was about to burst and a lady who
just had an operation, they all came just to have their votes counted.

Once again, I saw a community working together despite its differences.
Migrante, K4, Bangon, Action Democratiko, KNP and Namfrel were all there trying
to last through the four nights of counting and canvassing. I could sense the
camaraderie we once had before the exercise return once again.

We have seen and experienced how we can make things happen. We have seen how
dedication, commitment and determination can be contagious to those who have
been exposed to it. We have seen how the Consulate has pushed itself to new
heights of service. We have seen the growing sense of nationhood in the faces of
the volunteers. We have seen their pride when Hongkong saw the highest
percentage of voter’s turnout. Though what we have is a law that is flawed, we
cannot allow this enthusiasm to be extinguished.
May the memories of those who were involved in the exercise be with them when
they go home for good. We may have been unable to raise the consciousness of the
Filipino community in Hongkong but I am sure that the exercise affected those
who were involved in the process. This is hope.##

								
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