NAMFREL volunteers observe Colombian election in Manila

by Paolo Maligaya

  NAMFREL volunteers observed overseas voting in connection with the second round of the Colombian presidential election, on June 17 at the Colombian Embassy in Manila. NAMFREL took part in the observation, in support of the call for observers by the Global Network for Domestic Election Monitors (GNDEM), to participate in the worldwide monitoring organized by Colombia's Misión de Observación Electoral (MOE). The individual volunteers received accreditation from Colombia's Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) through the efforts of the MOE. The overseas voting at the embassy was facilitated by His Excellency Victor Hugo Echeverri Jaramillo, Colombian Ambassador to the Philippines, the embassy staff, and volunteer Colombian poll jurors (polling station workers) residing in the Philippines. In Colombia, serving as a poll juror is compulsory, electronically and randomly selected by national identification numbers.
  It was the third time for NAMFREL volunteers to observe Colombian overseas voting. Volunteers first observed the second round of the Colombian presidential election on June 15, 2014. They also observed the Colombian peace agreement referendum on October 2, 2016.

Overseas voting lasted for a week, starting on June 11. Each day, the embassy received voters who registered to take part in the overseas voting. The embassy requested the participation of volunteers to serve as poll jurors -- at least three volunteers per day -- from among the Colombians who are residing in the Philippines. At the end of each day, the votes received for that day were counted, and the results were transmitted electronically to Colombia. The process started anew the following day, using accountable forms for that specific day. Consolidation of total votes received at the embassy for the 7-day voting period was done in Colombia, not at the embassy.

It was the third election this year for Colombians. Parliamentary elections were held on March 11, while the first round of the Presidential elections was held on May 27.

There are two main institutions in charge of elections in Colombia: the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) is the policy-making body in-charge of general oversight of the electoral process, including the accreditation of parties and observers, as well as declaration of winners, among other functions, while the Registraduría Nacional del Estado Civil (National Civil Registry) is tasked with the logistics of the actual carrying out of the elections, including the registration of voters and selection of poll jurors, among other functions.
Voting process

Colombia used a hybrid election system for the presidential elections, in which voters manually filled out ballots, while the results were both transmitted electronically to Bogota, and also manually verified. Election tallies were made available on a website, and the result of the election based on electronic transmissions was known on the night of election day.

For the second round of voting for president, voters were presented with one ballot containing three choices: Candidate A with running-mate, Candidate B with running-mate, and a third option that says "Voto en Blanco," which essentially means "none of the above," an official abstention or vote of disapproval of the two options, which was also tallied along with the votes garnered by the two candidates.

.. (The Voto en Blanco option was also present in the ballot for the first round, which had six presidential candidate teams to choose from.) In the Colombian election system, a majority win for Voto en Blanco could prompt the holding of another election for the position being contested with a different set of candidates.

After receiving the ballot, voters then went behind a voting booth to write an X mark over the photo of their chosen candidate team. Voters can only mark one option. Marking two or more options spoils the ballot.

After marking the ballot, voters returned to the desk where the poll jurors were seated, and were then made to drop their ballot inside the ballot box. Like the voting booth, the ballot box was made of cardboard. It was sealed by a specially-marked adhesive tape.
Before leaving the polling station, instead of being marked with indelible ink on a finger, voters were given a "Certificado electoral," a numbered card that proves that the voter has voted. This card comes with benefits, as it can be redeemed for discounts and other advantages in procuring government services.

In the second round of voting observed in Manila, the whole process inside the polling station, from the looking up of name on the voter list, until the handing out of the certificado electoral, took less than a minute for some voters.
... Counting, consolidation, and transmission

During the counting of votes in the embassy, the ballots were first sorted according to candidate voted, in this case, into two, for Candidate A and Candidate B. Nobody marked the space for Voto en Blanco.

The results of the voting were then written by the poll jurors on a form called E-14, the Acta de Escrutinio de los Jurados de Votación, or simply, the record of the count or tally form. The E-14 was torn into three parts, separated by perforation after the number of votes were written on it; they looked like receipts after they were perforated. Each part contained blanks where the number of votes garnered were written by hand, and all were signed by the poll jurors.
While all parts of the E-14 tally form should contain identical data, each part has a different purpose:


The first part is used to show the results at the polling station. It has no legal value.


The second part of the E-14 will be submitted physically to the Scrutinizing Committee upon reaching Colombia, for manual verification of results, checking the results indicated on this part against the results that were transmitted electronically. This part of the E-14 is the document used in consolidating the official results at various levels, becoming the basis for the proclamation of the winners. In Colombia, this form is handed immediately after the count, to members of the Scrutinizing Committee present at the polling station. The Committee is made up of judges, public notaries, and registrars.


The third part of the E-14 is given to the designated personnel who will encode the results on a computer and transmit the results electronically to Bogota. The results from this form are shown on a website so that the public can track the results, down to the polling station level.
Each part of the E-14 had identical bar codes, but unique QR codes. The embassy was required to send all the accountable forms back to Colombia through DHL within two days after voting ended.

The NAMFREL volunteers were allowed to observe the transmission of the results of the voting for the day. The designated personnel at the embassy was handed the part of the E-14 for transmission. Using a VPN provided by the National Civil Registry specifically for this purpose, the personnel connected to the internet and logged on to the Civil Registry's website (https://www.registraduria.gov.co/) using the office desktop computer, to type the results. The website required that the figures were entered three times to ensure accuracy. Aside from the Civil Registry's website, the results were also accessible through a mobile app that could be downloaded by the public for free.
The new president and vice president will assume office on August 7, 2018, with their term ending on August 7, 2022. They will not be allowed to run for re-election.