FOR the first time since I became a voter at the age of 21 many years ago, I lost the sanctity and secrecy of my ballot on May 9. This was all because Smartmatic’s vote counting machine (VCM) that the Commission on Elections installed at Precinct No. 89 at Don Jose Elementary School in Santa Rosa City rejected my ballot and those of many other voters.
The school at Santa Rosa City was only a few kilometers away from our house but I could not leave the room because I had already shaded my ballot and was waiting for it to be fed to a VCM.
Unfortunately for me and many others that lined up in the school corridors leading to the schoolroom, we had to wait until the arrival of a Smartmatic team to repair the vote counter. Meanwhile, I remained in the room holding tight the folder that contained the ballot in which I shaded the designated marks for the candidates I voted for as if my life depended on it.
What if a new VCM did not arrive?
It was a question to which I had no answer. I even suspected that the VCM malfunction was part of a grand plan of certain politicians to cheat their way to victory. As I engaged myself in this kind of hallucination, I looked at the poll watchers who were taking notes of the happenings taking place inside the schoolroom. I could only guess that they were assessing the situation and reporting their observations to their respective candidates.
Where did the Commission on Elections go wrong in their choice of machines to count our votes? Imagine the expenses that went with the acquisition of these VCMs that could have run to billions of pesos in taxpayers’ money. Why didn’t Comelec have any provisions for contingency in case something went wrong with any of the VCMs?
All along, I thought that the long wait that I had to bear inside Precinct No. 89 was an isolated case. I was to learn later when I monitored the elections on television that night that there were many other reported VCM glitches.
Really? How many were those glitches? Will somebody tell us who ended up winners in those malfunctioning VCMs? Would these not affect our votes? What if what was supposed to be well-secured cards inside these VCMs were stolen and replaced by what has already been fully filled up with the wrong votes? These thoughts led me to conclude that manual counting of votes would have been much better than an advanced technology that only frustrated the expectation of Filipino voters.
I felt relieved temporarily when I saw a man carrying a box which I presumed contained a VCM. It was not. I did not bother to ask what was inside it because I was more concerned with protecting my ballot. I had wanted a VCM so that I would feel the satisfaction of seeing the receipt of my votes being counted for the candidates that I had chosen.
There was no receipt that reflected my votes.
As a last recourse, one of the four teachers told us we had to wait for a nearby precinct to finish using the VCM assigned to it. One asked: How long would the waiting last? The answer: the waiting could last much longer than expected because the VCM in another precinct should finish first processing all the ballots fed to it before we would be allowed to use it.
We counted the hours of voting and arrived at an estimate, which the teachers confirmed: Until 3:00 a.m. That’s how long we had to bear the agony of waiting just for a VCM to become available for our use.
This was how I lost the sanctity and secrecy of our votes: Instead of waiting for a new VCM, I went along with the other voters to leave our ballots. The question was to whom? Not with any of the poll watchers who were partisans. How about entrusting out ballots to the representatives of Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV)? Between the poll watchers and PCRV people, we chose the latter.
Even if PPCRV was non-partisan, I still felt that the sanctity and secrecy of my votes have been violated. But I had to accept the urgency of the situation and justified my decision to entrust my ballots to it by the saying that in case of necessity there is no law.