Et Tu “Hintuturo”
– the Biometrics Voters Registration Law a finger away from a clean voters list?
by Eric Jude O. Alvia, NAMFREL Secretary
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
Biometrics law may lead to
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’
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.