Voting time: Cutting it close
MANILA, Philippines - One of the vulnerabilities of this year's midterm elections is that there was no adequate preparation and testing conducted for the whole process, especially on the voting process. Aside from problems with the PCOS machine and the Comelec's credibility, there are also fears of long lines and massive disenfranchisement due to the untested system.
Last 2010, the Comelec had to modify its general instructions on election day itself and extended the voting period due to long queues that formed in the morning. Looking at the general instructions sent out for the Board of Election Inspectors for the 2013 election, we see that there is not much difference in the whole procedure.
With more than 52 million voters who will troop to the 76,000 clustered precincts, how many of these precincts would experience queueing? In the absence of an actual time-motion study that will measure the amount of time that will be used for each step of the voting process, we can still get a glimpse of what could happen by simulating the voting queue through software.
In this work, we used SimPy, a Python (a programming language) package, to simulate a queue of voters arriving during election day. We based the steps on what a voter and the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) should do according to the Comelec's General Instructions promulgated recently.
Using this simulation, we can estimate how many voters will be able to actually vote by the end of the polls, per precinct, and how much time will be available to do each step of the voting process.
It turns out that one of the critical factors limiting the number of voters is number of actual voters. On election day, a maximum of 1,000 voters per clustered precinct (CP) are expected to arrive. Each of these clustered precincts will have at least 3 BEI members plus their support staff, depending on the number of voters in the precinct.
The whole voting process will take 12 hours from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm.
Once a voter arrives at the polling area, the first thing that he should do is to look up his name and sequence number. The maximum time a voter can spend looking for his name out of a long list is around 15 minutes. If the voter takes longer than this, chances are that the queue will pile up and not everyone will be able to vote.
Assuming that one finds his/her name and sequence number, he then approaches any of the members of the BEI and support staff. The voter's identity will be verified and if everything goes well, he is directed to the chair of the BEI.
The number of BEI members and support staff is limited. If one member is busy with a task, the voter will have to wait for his turn. In the simulation, BEI members should be able to process this within 2.6 minutes at the most.
After proper identification, the voter will be directed to the chair of the BEI to get his ballot. Again, this is a limiting step in the flow since it is only the chairperson that can do this. If he/she is busy, one has to wait. The voter must also wait for an official folder (that is as long as the ballot) since one is not allowed to mark his ballot without it.
In the simulation, the BEI chair has a maximum period of 40 seconds to verify from the voter's finger that he has not cast his vote yet, then give him the ballot, instruct him on how to fill it up, give him a folder and have him sign several times. If it takes longer than this, the number of voters unable to vote beyond 6 pm drastically increases.
One can take as long as 9-10 minutes (but no longer) to fill up the ballot, but one will have to wait for the PCOS machine to be free for the ballot reading. At the PCOS, the voter should be able to successfully insert the ballot within 40 seconds.
After having the ballot read into the machine, the voter returns to the BEI to have his finger marked and the folder returned. The BEI member should be able to accomplish this within 2.75 minutes.
Not enough time
Even in the best estimate of a minute of your time being used up in every step outlined above, we find that precincts above a certain size will experience queuing that could lead to people lining up beyond the voting period.
At the realistic “best time” of a minute each step and granting an even a shorter time of 10 seconds for operating the PCOS machine, we find that clustered precincts with approximately more than 630 voters would have to be ready to deal with the queue spilling more than an hour beyond 7:00 pm.
If voters take a minute to operate the PCOS machine (maybe due to their ballots not being read or if any malfunction that we found in the final testing and sealing crops up again), the threshold size for queues would be around 560. There will be queues longer than an hour above this number. - Rappler.com
Dr. Tapang is a convenor of Kontra Daya. He is also the National Chair of AGHAM. The source code of Dr Tapang is available at www.agham.org/cms/software.
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