IT is encouraging to know that the Commission on Elections is considering the proposed hybrid election system. We believe the system will ensure transparency without sacrificing the speed of the process. And contrary to the propaganda against it, the hybrid system is unlike the manual voting of old. Instead, voting will still be manual, but canvassing will be automated.
After two national elections, the PCOS machines have failed to win people’s trust. Initially, suspicions stemmed from the Comelec’s refusal to allow a public review of the machines’ source code to check for any manipulation of the software’s programming. In 2013, this issue fueled talk of election rigging as supposedly evidenced by the 60-30-10 pattern in the outcome of the senatorial race.
Actually, many issues hold back public acceptance of the PCOS machines. The digital signatures feature was deactivated, which was to be used by the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) in transmitting election returns. Also deactivated was the ultraviolet light detector, which was designed to allow the PCOS machines to verify the authenticity of the ballots by scanning the security marks printed on them.
Then there is also the accuracy of the PCOS. In the last elections, the machines were reportedly 99.97 percent accurate, which fell short of the original requirement of at least 99.995 percent accuracy. A slight difference of .03 percent meant more than a million votes in the last polls, more than enough to push a senatorial candidate from the cusp and into the winners’ circle.
Major hurdles ahead
Admittedly, the hybrid option faces at least two major hurdles. One is time, at least for the 2016 elections. There may not be enough time to put together a new system for the next polls, even though a hybrid system proposes to use familiar technology such as desktops (or laptops) and modems. Still, setting it up and making it work smoothly will require training for the operators.
The bigger hurdle may be in the insufficient number of teachers available to work as BEIs. There are only 630,000 public school teachers available to work as BEIs in a manual-voting system like the hybrid, against more than 900,000 that are required to fill that role.
When the Comelec used the PCOS in the last elections, the commission organized precincts into clusters, which required only 250,000 BEIs. Besides, teacher groups have expressed their unwillingness to work in a hybrid system, partly because of the laborious task of tallying votes at the precinct level. And naturally, teachers also want to avoid exposure to political pressure and related threats that typically characterized their vote tallying experience.
We are unsure whether the Comelec can overcome the major hurdles identified here. But we find some pronouncements by Comelec Chairman Andy Bautista to be promising.
First, he said that he was committed to holding an election in 2016 as scheduled. The only thing worse than PCOS is to postpone the polls – a recipe for political disaster. Second, he seems committed to conducting clean and honest elections. People should give him a chance, and we support anyone who is for fair and credible elections.
The best intentions of one person, however, may not be enough. The Comelec is a collegial body on top of a large organization with a complex structure. It is not easily whipped into shape. And the safeguards protecting its independence from political influence are also the reasons why change is so difficult to implement. But a chairman who is willing to listen gives us hope.