Et Tu “Hintuturo” – the Biometrics Voters Registration Law a finger away from a clean voters list? (Part 2) 

by  Eric Jude O. Alvia, NAMFREL Secretary General

from NAMFREL Election Monitor Vol.2, No. 20

New laws as a requisite for an accurate CVL

Currently, registered voters cannot be compelled to undergo biometrics data capture (“finger printing”) since no additional requirement for registration other than those provided under the Voter Registration Act of 1996 (RA 8189) can be imposed. To deal with this inadequacy and to cleanse the list of voters through the use of an Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), legislations were filed in Congress to amend RA 8189 to make biometric capture for all voter registrants mandatory. The AFIS is a biometric identification system that uses digital imaging technology to obtain, store, and analyze fingerprint data.

One such measure is House Bill (HB) no. 3469 authored by Tarlac Representative (Rep.) Susan Yap. The bill was approved on its final reading in May. Similarly, a counterpart bill proposing for a Biometrics Law (Senate Bill no. 1030) was filed by Senator Lito Lapid in July. Both bills require the submission for biometric capture and the validation of voters registered as of May 10, 2010 national elections and those who have registered under RA 8189 without biometrics data. These legislations aim to cleanse the national voters' list from multiple registrants to help curb cheating and ensure the integrity of future election results.

The main feature of these bills include requiring city and municipal Election Officers to conduct a validation process by taking the biometrics (ie. photograph, fingerprint, and signature) of registered voters through the use of Data Capturing Machines (DCMs). It also mandates an automated general registration to help the Commission on Elections (Comelec) nullify all existing registrations, purge the perceived padded old voters’ list and come up with a new computerized CVL free from multiple registrants.

Under the measure, the Comelec is mandated to implement in a “uniform and nondiscriminatory manner, a single, official, centralized, interactive computerized voter registration list defined, maintained, and administered by the poll agency”. This database will serve as the single system for storing and managing the official list of registered voters throughout the country. The bill also provides that the list should contain the name and registration information of every legally registered voter and assigns a “unique identifier” to each verified registrant.

It also requires that it shall be shared and coordinated with other government agency databases by mandating any authorized election official to obtain immediate electronic access to the information contained in the list. Furthermore, all voter registration information obtained by any local election official shall be electronically entered into the list immediately at the time the information is provided by a registrant.

To aid in cleansing the list of deceased or non-resident electors, those who fail to submit for validation on or before the last day of filing (ie. October 31, 2012) of application for registration for purposes of the 2013 national and local elections, shall be deactivated from the registration record by the Election Registration Board (ERB). However, those deactivated may apply before the ERB for reactivation with the simultaneous validation of the applicant, if eligible, for inclusion in the voters list.

Other pending measures are HB no.1077, co-authored by Cagayan de Oro Reps. Rufus Rodriguez and Maximo Rodriguez Jr., and HB no. 2998 by San Juan City Rep. Joseph Victor Ejercito which amends Section 58 Article 46 (Penalty) of RA 8189. The proposed law increases the penalty for violations to a maximum imprisonment of 12 years and disqualification to hold public office and deprivation of the right to vote. Political parties found guilty will be imposed a fine of Php 1,000,000.

Biometrics law may lead to disenfranchised voters

There have been arguments against legislating mandatory biometric capture. Some election lawyers believe that doing so would disenfranchise a large portion of voters who have not been registered through biometrics. They point out that the current biometric capture legislation only addresses the technology aspect but not the resource requirement for the Comelec to implement the proposed biometrics law.

With barely a year left until the end of the continuing registration in October 31, 2012 and with almost a third of the voting population still without biometrics, there is a massive need for additional DCMs and Voter Registration System Machines (VRM) in time for the use of full-biometric voters list for the 2013 elections. Passing a law without the adequate acquisition of needed DCM/VRMs will just spawn another problem of a non-inclusive voters list.

Beyond mandating biometric capture, allowing the Comelec discretion in the need for biometric capture, integration of the existing biometric database in voting machines to screen and limit multiple voting, and exercising transparency & allowing voters list access to the public can be an equally effective deterrent against election fraud without the risk of disenfranchising voters.

AFIS to cleanse the voters’ list

A number of countries have used the AFIS technology for a variety of purposes with favorable results. These applications include criminal identification, applicant background checks, receipt of benefits & social services, and receipt of credentials (such as passports). The sharing of the systems database and allowing a decentralized infrastructure remains a key factor in maintaining its accuracy and optimizing its usage. Opening and sharing the system to authorized and common users can be facilitated by the passage of these legislation and the implementation of the Information, Communication and Technology Office (ICTO) and its stakeholders initiative to adopt the “common reference number” scheme.

Thus, to fully harness the AFIS technology’s capability to cleanse the voters’ list and screen qualified voters, it would be advantageous to share and integrate the Comelec database with other national as well as local government agencies' database such as those from the “Unified Multiple-Purpose Identification System” (UMID) as mandated by Section 5b of Executive Order (E.O.) 420. The E.O. mandates LGUs and other branches of government to include the Comelec to streamline and harmonize their identification system. The UMID system
currently unifies the existing IDs of the National Statistics Office (NSO), Social Security System (SSS), Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), and the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (Philhealth).

Comelec with the UMID by 2013 to improve the Voters List

Implementing EO 420 and related proposed laws assigning a “unique identifier” to each registered voter dovetails with a proposed ICTO project to capture Filipino adults’ biometric data by 2013. This would allow each citizen a unique reference number one can use in transacting business with government. The system provides for a common reference number to improve government services through the use of a digital information management system.

The digital ID management system also calls on each of the agencies capturing biometrics for various purposes – voting records for the Commission on Elections (Comelec), tax payments for the Bureau of Internal Revenue, or social security details for the Social Security System – to maintain current databases of citizens’ records. These agencies will likewise be mandated to share their records so citizens do not need to have their biometric data repeatedly captured.

Flaws in AFIS-matching to Cleanse the Voters List

While adopting the AFIS to cleanse the list is laudable, its proper and efficient use remains in doubt to accurately purge the voters list. In assessing Comelec’s recent data, IT and MIS experts reveal some flaws in its application. Comelec’s July 11, 2011 update, reveal that there are 52,720,603 registered voters of which; 34,938,758 voters have biometrics information while 15,823,342 still have none.

Comelec claims that it has AFIS-matched the almost 35 million biometric voters records that uncovered 1,021,154 multiple registrants. However, only 705,916 that were uncovered was a result of “multiple registered matching” while 315, 238 were human-verified. Based on these figures 1,958,503 registered voters are still unaccountable.

Matching 70% of an uncompleted voters list is erroneous

IT and MIS expert point out that matching on a partial portion of an uncompleted voters database is flawed. For effective and accurate cleansing, all records must be available for matching. Only if matching for all registrants will be repeated once full biometric capture is finished, can the conclusion that 1,021,154 “multiple registered” matches from the 35 million is valid. Multiple registrants may still be found from the non-biometric database when matched against the 35 million. However, if the “matches” on the 35 million were already purged then these multiple registrants (from the 15+ million) may never be identified.

Low matching accuracy of the AFIS necessitates the use of human verification

Another flaw is the seeming inaccuracy of the AFIS. From the Comelec data presented, a significant portion (31%) of the biometric database found to have multiple registers were human verified. It appears that the NEC AFIS seems to have exceeded the accuracy margins thereby requiring additional human verification.

IT and MIS experts point out that the AFIS is required to have a False Acceptance Rate (FAR) and a False Rejection Rate (FRR) of 99.99+%. Given this required accuracy level, the 315,238 human-verified multiple registrants out of the 1,021,154 records which should have been all rejected except for 102 records (the 0.01% acceptable error). However, the AFIS verified matches of 705,916 out of the 1,021,154 registrant records mean only a 69% FAR. At a 99.99% FAR, it should have “false accepted” only 102 records and not 315,238 or more than 3,000 times the acceptable rate.

The expert further asserts that a low FAR is dangerous for a voters' database since a large proportion of multiple registrants can be accepted into the database and will be able to vote. On the other hand a low FRR is not that dangerous except but it will result in disenfranchised voters.

An Inclusive CVL to Increase Migrant Workers Participation

To address a major cause of low participation of migrant workers (OFWs) in voter registration and elections in the past elections, there are moves to amend RA 9189 or the Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) Law. During voters registration, OFWs must be physically present in embassies and consulates to register. Moreover, they are then required to vote personally in these sites come election day.

Due to OFWs deployment in remote locations or those with tight job-schedules, provisions to allow migrant workers for internet registration and voting or mail voting will limit those constraints. To assuage security concerns, a second biometrics mode (eg. face, iris, voice recognition etc.) or a combination of any can complement the fingerprint biometric system and complement a voter registry verification system.

While there is a need to define the technical specifications for the biometric devices and database, it is not advisable to include such specifications in the law but only through an IRR to avoid the need to frequently amend the law posed by technology obsolescence and to take advantage of new and better technologies in the future.


While the introduction of amendments and proposed laws are laudable to enhance inclusiveness and improve the accuracy of the voters list, the core of any electoral process lies in the inclusion of eligible voters in the CVL. Ideally, using an accurate voters list diminishes the likelihood of electoral fraud. A voters list must strike the balance between inclusiveness and strictness when devising the registration and cleansing process.

Beyond the moves to have an accurate CVL by mandatory biometric capture & general registration, the sharing and proper use of the technology to cleanse the voters database; equally important is the ease of voters registration and access by the public to the CVL for citizens to fulfill their role in maintaining a clean voters list.