This scene took place on Tuesday, November 4. Why, oh why, my wife scolds me, are you following so intently the US midterm elections when you’re not eligible to vote there? And why are you favoring those loud people on Fox News over those dull people on CNN and BBC?
I will tell you why, I say earnestly in reply. Because the results and developments in this balloting could offer big lessons for politics and policy here in our country. Because the conservatives on Fox are more convincing than the liberals on CNN. And because the prognosis of most analysts on the Internet is that Barack Obama will get the beating of his political life.
Sure enough, before I could say Aha, the US midterms not only showed a shellacking of Obama and the Democratic Party, it produced two unexpected developments that could serve as grist for hope and change here in the Philippines.
These salutary developments are:
First, Americans are growing weary of electronic voting machines, and are losing faith that electronic voting is the right technology for American democracy.
According to the Hill website, a good number of US states abandoned electronic voting machines, ensuring that most voters cast their ballots by hand on Election Day.
Second, Political dynasties suffered major setbacks in the elections. The results were so bad for dynastic politicians, some pundits said that the days of the political dynasty may be setting in America.
Electronic voting machines ditched
Because of its possible relevance to the ongoing dispute and debate on Smartmatic and its PCOS machines here at home, I reproduce the Hill’s report at length below:
“With many electronic voting machines more than a decade old, and states lacking the funding to repair or replace them, election officials opted to return to the pencil-and-paper voting that the new technology was supposed to replace.
“Nearly 70 percent of voters cast ballots by hand on Tuesday (November 4), according to Pamela Smith, president of election watchdog Verified Voting.
“ ‘Paper, even though it sounds kind of old school, it actually has properties that serve the elections really well,’ Smith said.
“It’s an outcome few would have predicted after the 2000 election, when the battle over ‘hanging chads’ in the Florida recount spurred a massive, $3 billion federal investment in electronic voting machines.
“Since then, states have failed to maintain the machines, partly due to budget shortfalls.
“ ‘There is simply no money to replace them,’ said Michael Shamos, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University who has examined computerized voting systems in six states.
“The lack of spending on the machines is a major problem because the electronic equipment wears out quickly. Smith recalled sitting in a meeting with Missouri election officials in 2012 where they complained 25 percent of their equipment had malfunctioned in preelection testing.
“ ‘You’re dealing with voting machines that are more than a decade old,’ Smith said.
“One group from Princeton needed only seven minutes and simple hacking tools to install a computer program on a voting machine that took votes for one candidate and gave them to another.
“More whimsically, two researchers showed they could install Pac-Man onto a touch-screen voting machine, leaving no detectable traces of their presence.
“An electronic machine in North Carolina lost roughly 4,500 votes in a 2004 statewide race after it simply stopped recording votes. The race was ultimately decided by fewer than 2,000 votes.
“ ‘Now what do you do?’ Smith asked. ‘You can’t really do a recount. There’s nothing to count.’
“Within a year, the state passed a law requiring a paper back-up.
“ ‘Paper trails are simply ‘more resilient,’ Smith said.”
When combined with Germany’s and Holland’s abandonment of electronic voting, this emerging trend in the US should prompt us here in Manila to review the viability of electronic voting machines, particularly the PCOS machines that our Commission on Elections has fallen in love with.
The decision should not be left in the hands of Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr, who is due for retirement next year.
Setbacks for US political dynasties
The Hill also reported on November 11 the surprising defeat of various political dynasties in the midterm elections.
I quote freely from the Hill’s report because of the lessons it bears for our own ardent desire to change the dynastic political landscape in our country:
“Lost among the scattered debris of the Democratic midterm disaster is another phenomenon: the widespread rejection of dynastic politicians. Three of the five defeated Democratic senators who ran for reelection belong to families whose famous last names had paved their way for a cakewalk entry into high political office….
“Perhaps the biggest problem that the defeated dynasties carried into their reelection campaigns is that they were initially propelled into office almost solely by their name.
“As we learn who sons or daughters of famous names are, we also learn what they are not, and the knowledge often strips them of their potential appeal.”
The chief lesson for Filipinos to learn from this salutary development in the US is that the dynasties in our country are not ordained by heaven. They can be defeated. Political reform is possible, when carried forward by determined citizen reformers, who want to give life to the mandate of the Constitution banning political dynasties.
Dynasty, like crime, should not pay. And the PCOS machines should be cast aside like the Betamax and other obsolete gadgets.