Comelec

FAST FACTS: Comelec’s precinct finder

Michelle Abad
FAST FACTS: Comelec’s precinct finder

TOOL. Comelec's precinct finder for the 2019 elections. This screenshot was taken from a capture of the Comelec's now-down webpage of its precinct finder on Archive.org.

(1st UPDATE) The Commission on Elections had allowed its precinct finder to be mirrored by news organizations in previous elections

MANILA, Philippines (1st UPDATE) – When the Commission on Elections inked an agreement with the Philippines’ top digital-only news site Rappler on February 24, it included Rappler’s hosting of the Comelec’s precinct finder once it becomes available.

As the elections draw near, registered voters will need information on where exactly they’ll be casting their votes on May 9. The Comelec’s precinct finder application is one of the ways to find out.

What is the precinct finder, and does sharing it with other hosts involve data privacy issues?

Here are some things you should know.

What is the precinct finder?

The Comelec’s precinct finder is an online tool that allows registered voters to check their precinct, or the place where they are supposed to be casting their votes, on election day.

Here, registered voters enter personal information such as their full names, birthdates, and the provinces and cities or municipalities where they registered. Pressing the submit button will allow the tool to find a voter’s precinct from its database.

Users cannot access the full list of voters through the precinct finder.

What about privacy risks?

According to Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez, the precinct finder on Rappler and other organizations that wish to “host” it will simply be a “mirror” of the Comelec’s own precinct finder.

The Comelec will be supplying embed codes and not a full list of voters and their precincts. This means that third party websites will not have access to the actual databases.

This is similar to the way YouTube allows the embedding of video on third party websites. The user can view the video while visiting the website that has the embed code. But the underlying application is actually hosted on YouTube’s servers. 

“The databases will still remain within the confines of Comelec’s own servers protected, of course, by the DICT’s (Department of Information and Technology’s) firewalls,” said Jimenez in the press briefing with Rappler on February 24.

FAST FACTS: Comelec’s precinct finder

The source code of applications implementing the precinct finder will also be subject to the review of the Comelec and the Department of Information and Communications Technology.

The Comelec clarified that other groups, not just Rappler, who want access to this service may likewise apply.

Rappler and the other hosts will only be mirroring the search function, the Comelec said. 

Why allow mirrors anyway? Can’t the Comelec have the only precinct finder?

Allowing mirrors is “very necessary,” the Comelec said. As election day draws nearer, Jimenez said usage of the precinct finder increases.

“If you were to just have one outlet doing it, like the Comelec website lang, for example, sigurado dadapa ‘yan kaagad-agad (it will surely crash immediately),” said Jimenez.

2016 mirror

News websites apart from Rappler have served as hosts of the Comelec’s precinct finder in previous election seasons.

Here’s what the mirror on GMA News Online looked like for the 2016 elections:

MIRROR SERVICE. GMA News Online’s now-defunct precinct finder mirror in 2016. Rappler screenshot

“This is a mirror service of the Precinct Finder facility in the official COMELEC Website,” the website’s description reads.

The precinct finder webpage is still accessible on GMA News Online’s website, but the tool can no longer be used.

Apart from hosting the precinct finder, Rappler will collaborate with the Comelec for a fact-checking initiative, with the former alerting the latter about false and misleading online election-related claims that could undermine the election’s integrity.

Rappler, through its civic engagement arm MovePH, will also help the poll body conduct awareness campaigns on the elections. An online show, podcast, workshop, and seminars are being developed.

The Comelec has been partnering with Rappler since 2013 to ensure clean, credible, honest, and truthful elections.

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– with reports from Gemma B. Mendoza/Rappler.com

Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a researcher-writer with the investigative unit of Rappler. She also covers overseas Filipinos and the rights of women and children.