Part 3 – Problems in the ‘pure manual system’
In the first two installments of this series, I discussed how the pure manual system that we used in all elections from 1946 to 2007, worked. This third installment will discuss the problems associated with that system, eventually becoming the reason for automating the process in order to mitigate them.
The biggest problem in the pure manual system was the many weeks it took to complete the process and proclaim the winners of the elections. In the last three decades, it would take more than 20 days before the winners would be proclaimed. Once, it even took all of 42 days to complete!
It was not a problem during the country’s election exercises prior to martial law because the number of registered voters then, even at its highest, was less than a fourth of what it is today. But the population grew during the 14 years of martial law, and consequently, so also did the number of registered voters. Let’s take a look at some historical figures (on Table A are the election dates while those on the right are the corresponding registered voters during those years):
The election period became longer and longer, as the voting population grew. The increase in the time period was however not caused by the precinct level activities, as more precincts were simply opened in order to accommodate the growth in the number of voters. The longer time period was caused by the longer canvassing activities.
To explain this further: let’s say that there are one million voters registered and 5,000 precincts opened to accommodate 200 voters per precinct. Let’s also assume that it took the precincts an average of eight hours to count the votes and produce the Election Returns. If the number of registered voters increased by half-a-million, and the number of precincts was increased by another 2,500, then presumably, it would still take just eight hours to count all the votes in all the precincts.
On the other hand, the increase in the number of precincts by another 2,500 will proportionately increase the canvassing time at the City/Municipal Board of Canvassers by 50 percent as there will still be only one Board that will do the consolidation.
But there were other reasons that caused the slowness of the process. Before 1992, local elections used to be run separately from national elections. As such, in each election, there were fewer positions/candidate names in the ballot that needed to be counted and canvassed. In 1992, however, the national and local elections were synchronized and that naturally resulted in an increase in the number of positions and names in the ballot that needed to be counted and canvassed. Counting at the precincts and the eventual canvassing therefore took a much longer time.
And then, there’s also the inclusion of the party-list candidates. Averaging almost a hundred candidates in every election, counting and canvassing became even more cumbersome.
The long election process caused other problems, too. Big-time cheating became easier as the delay provided the cheats with sufficient time to do their evil deeds. Thus, “dagdag-bawas” (literally, add-subtract) came into being. This occurred at the canvassing levels, particularly at the city/municipal canvassing and at the provincial canvassing.
The teachers, who composed the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI), were put at risk as they would end up going home in the early hours of the following morning. At that time, they would have put in almost 24 hours of back-breaking work, as they would have been up since 5 a.m. or earlier on election day.
During the transport of the ballot boxes and the election returns from the precincts to the City/Municipal Board of Canvassers, there had been occasions when the boxes would be hijacked and stuffed with fake ballots, or replaced with pre-stuffed boxes. Or, simply destroyed.
There had also been reports that the BEI chairman would sometimes intentionally misread the ballots, thus favoring certain candidates. This problem was substantially reduced when political party watchers were allowed to position themselves behind the BEI as the latter conducts the counting.
Truly, because of the enormity of the operations, individual problems had become very difficult to solve. Thus, the automation of the election process became the “end-all and be-all” solution. Expectations were high. And the general public believed that such expectations were met. But alas! those in the know believe otherwise.