MANILA, Philippines – Did cheating happen in precincts where some candidates fared exceptionally well, while other candidates didn't and instead got zero votes?
Not necessarily, our findings show. But if cheating did occur, it looks like all of the vice-presidential candidates benefited from their opponents getting zero votes in their respective bailiwicks.
Of the two candidates currently locked in a tight race for the vice presidency, the one who got the most votes from precincts that registered zero votes is Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who got 49,460 votes from precincts where Camarines Sur Representative Leni Robredo got zero votes.
Robredo, on the other hand, got 27,964 votes from precincts where Marcos got zero votes.
Nationwide, more precincts recorded zero votes for Robredo than they did for Marcos. Robredo got zero votes in a total of 179 precincts nationwide, compared to Marcos' 133 precincts. See the regional breakdown of zero-vote precincts in the graphic below.
Netizens plowed through the data on the site and started finding fault in the voting results. Among those that caught the people’s attention were precincts that delivered zero votes for some candidates. Several users posted screenshots of where candidates were receiving zero votes.
Supporters of candidates Robredo and Marcos, the top two in the vice-presidential race, started trading accusations of cheating on social media as many found the numbers they were seeing unbelievable.
“For argument’s sake, let’s assume zero votes do indicate some anomaly or cheating. Then, let’s find out who benefitted the most from forcing zero votes in electoral returns. This means finding all the locations where the zero votes happened. Then, we find the winning candidate by counting all the votes in that area.”
Rappler went through most of the precincts. We also investigated possible explanations for these precincts reporting zero votes for the candidates in the contentious vice-presidential race.
One region that figured significantly when we went through precincts with zero votes is the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
The current ARMM regional governor, Mujiv Hataman, who ran under the banner of the Liberal Party (Robredo's own party) won by a margin of more than 40%, losing only in his rival’s province, Sulu.
A total of 95 precincts in the provinces of the ARMM did not give a single vote for Marcos.
With roughly 36,404 registered voters and a turnout of roughly 86% (31,209 votes), these precincts gave Robredo 24,422 votes.
Robredo, however, did not win in all these precincts – 6 of the precincts that registered zero votes for Marcos went for Escudero, 6 for Cayetano, and one for Honasan.
Among the ARMM provinces, the one that delivered to Marcos the least number of precincts with zero votes – only 2 – was the province of Sulu. Abdulsakur Tan, the governor of the province, belongs to the Liberal party. But he is also a known Marcos ally.
The opposite happened for Robredo: 41 precincts from the province of Sulu gave her zero votes. An additional 84 precincts also from Sulu, gave her less than 5 votes.
Robredo also received zero votes from precincts in other provinces of ARMM, with the exception of Maguindanao. Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu, got 64.6% of total votes cast in this province as of 11:56 am of May 17, 2016. He also belongs to the Liberal party.
In the ARMM precincts that delivered zero votes for Robredo, Marcos topped the VP race, receiving 12,956 votes.
Not all of the 53 precincts that registered zero votes for Robredo went for Marcos, however, as 5 went for Cayetano, 3 for Escudero, and one for Trillanes.
Marcos received less than 5 votes each from an additional 115 precincts in Camarines Sur, which when combined, gave Robredo more than 26,000 vote.
Robredo, on the other hand, received zero votes from 73 precincts in Ilocos Norte, the home province of Marcos. Another 375 precincts gave less than 5 votes each to Robredo.
These 440-plus precincts combined gave Marcos more than 167,000 votes.
Robredo also received zero votes from 7 precincts in Davao City. These precincts all went for Cayetano, the running mate of Davao City Mayor and president-elect Rodrigo Duterte.
Overseas Absentee Voters
The Overseas Absentee Voters precincts belong to a completely different class. Several precincts recorded zero votes for most of the candidates, if not all of them. This can be explained by how overseas automated voting is conducted.
Overseas polling places had a fixed number of vote counting machines which was less than the number of assigned precincts in that polling station. Each assigned precinct had a corresponding SD card.
For example, Hong Kong which covers 93,978 registered overseas voters was asssigned 10 vote counting machines with 95 precincts and 95 corresponding SD cards.
Unlike in the local elections where a voter was assigned to a specific precinct number, in the overseas elections, the ballots were fed into whichever vote counting machine was active for the voter’s assigned polling place.
When the limit for the SD card in use was reached – up to 1,000 ballots or voters – the SD card was replaced and stored. Depending on the turnout, there may have been SD cards that remained unused.
Transmission of the votes of the SD cards was performed only after the elections closed on May 9, 2016.
This brings us back to the zero-data precincts. The data in SD cards that were unused are still transmitted to the different Comelec servers to indicate that they were not used.
In the case of Hong Kong, 44 of the 93 SD cards were not used and these were all transmitted to the Comelec servers as precincts with zero votes.
In many cases, but not all, precincts that delivered zero votes also exclusively voted for a single candidate.
We’ve also looked at precincts where all the other candidates, to the exclusion of only that candidate, received zero up to less than 5 votes from the precinct.