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Philippines to Relay Vote Tallies by  Cell Phone Text Messaging - 2004-05-05

As the Philippines prepares for next week's general election, an independent vote counting body is preparing to relay its tallies by tapping into the country's fondness for text messaging.

The National Citizens Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) has a new method for quickly counting votes that it said will speed up the process and help eliminate cheating and errors.

Starting on election day next Monday, volunteers at the country's 216,000 precincts will send in precinct results by sending text messages on mobile phones.

Filipinos will vote for candidates for more than 17,000 national and local offices, including the president and vice president on Monday.

The National Citizens Movement for Free Elections Secretary General Bill Luz said that the organization aims to have one registered "texter" to handle every three precincts. They will use special phones registered with the group's headquarters in Manila, so the numbers they send can be authenticated.

The group will check the text messaging tallies against a printed copy of the returns. Once a match is confirmed, the results will be posted.

Gus Lagman, who has been managing the national tabulation of Operation Quick Count since 1984, said that this is a uniquely Filipino undertaking. Because sending text messages is cheaper than calling on a mobile phone, millions of Filipinos each day tap out messages to friends and family around the world.

?The Philippines is the texting capital of the world, I think everybody agrees with that,? he said. ?We have some 200 million text messages a day in the Philippines. It is only natural that we would use this technology for an exercise like the elections.?

The National Citizens Movement for Free Elections is an independent vote counting organization that works to keep elections in the Philippines fair and open. The group's secretary general, Mr. Luz, said that it relies on thousands of volunteers. ?It is that motivation, I think, which gets droves of people out to join NAMFREL in doing things from everything from contributing services to joining our text campaign to get election results in,? he said.

The group will start tallying the votes as soon as they come in and hopes to complete the count within a week. There will be a phone number that voters can call to get updates on the results.