IT sounds romantic. It taps on our Luddite urges, the rage against the machine. It hews to our worst fears—a dystopian scenario in which pre-programmed computers skew the presidential elections to favor a would be dictator-crook. Who would then plunge the country into ruin and chaos.
I am referring to the current proposal to manually count the all-too important 2016 presidential election. Or, introduce a hybrid version that would blend a manual part with an automated part. My appeal to the proponents is this: for the sake of the country and our fragile democracy, please don’t resurrect the manual count, or even a hybrid incarnation of it.
No self-respecting liberal democracy would self-destruct and return to a manual count after two automated elections. Returning to the manual count would cast doubts on the integrity of the 2010 and 2013 election, or, at the very least, raise doubts on the legitimacy of the Aquino administration and the legitimacy of Vice President Binay. We can’t say the automation experiment failed. Saying that would mean removing every shred of legitimacy vested, domestically and internationally, on the leaders elected in the past two elections.
What about the body of laws enacted over the past four years? What about the international treaties ratified? What about the new banking rules adopted by the BSP leaders named by the current president? What about the Supreme Court chief justice impeached by the current Congress? All of these were decisions of the leaders elected in the 2010 and 2013 elections.
This is the worst scenario that could take place after the return to a manual count: anti-democracy forces plotting to sow political mayhem.
All self-respecting liberal democracies, there are no exceptions here, have fully embraced technological innovations and have adopted them into their systems of governance. Even political campaigns have evolved and have marched in lock step with the rapid technological changes. The media, the Fourth Estate, is now divided between the “old media”—which is struggling to adjust, survive and find relevance —and the “ new media” which have been changing the rules of the media landscape, including the coverage of presidential elections.
We also have the practical downsides of returning to a manual count.
A manual counts feeds on the baser urges of most political losers—and this is to contend election results on the flimsiest of grounds and litigate to the death. You have to wait for eternity to know the winners and losers. Such wait, such tense-filled interregnum, is often used as an opening by those desperate to win to do their thing and cheat.
A manual count with its built-in messiness, and this is borne by our electoral history, abets the “I wuz robbed” mentality of electoral losers.
The genesis of Mr. Marcos’s political career (his belief that his father was cheated in the congressional race by Mr. Nalundasan), and its end in 1986 (overthrown by popular revolt on suspicions he rigged the Feb. 1986 snap election), should lead to a national consensus to never put a shadow of doubt on the integrity of the electoral process.
So, what is to be done?
Find the best technology, and we should not even quibble about the cost. We should not count pennies when the thing at stake is the integrity of the electoral process and the future of our democratic government.
How? Via the most transparent, most publicly-accountable bidding process for the best machines and technology providers. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has promised to hold one and the general public should monitor how the poll body does it.
The pool of bidders should be as broad as possible and the bidding should attract international bidders. There is no basis for the hare-brained proposal to disqualify Smartmatic from the pool of bidders. The machines it provided to the Comelec were the technology backbones of the 2010 and 2013 elections and the doubts against those machines are more imaginary than real.
The country should hire, money should not be an issue here, technology monitors from Silicon Valley to help the bidding committee process and determine the best election technology available. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for one, can be tapped to help in this search for the best electoral technology available.
In short, nothing should be spared, nothing should be left to chance in the search for the best electoral technology for the 2016 election.
The proposal to return to a manual count has this following equivalencies, not really profound but passable enough:
To use a motoring metaphor, it will be like going back to the Trabant after a taste of the Maybach Exelero. A timely one, given that Germany and much of Europe recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Trabant was part of the nostalgia items of divided Germany.
For journalists, it would be like junking the computer to return to the Olivetti. Or junking the glory of Google research for the Encyclopedia.