Nothing’s more important now than to have credible elections. The count must be made as transparent as possible, specially the canvassing so that there are no doubts, misgivings and recriminations from both the electorate and candidates of goodwill. Some candidates will always claim they were cheated when they lose but they are obvious.
I was always for automated elections back in the long years as Namfrel Chair of Mandaluyong when we would go days without sleep as we manually counted the ballots in each electoral precinct. I imagined that elsewhere in developed countries which had automated, the counting was faster and more reliable. And if we automated, we would no longer fear goons snatching ballot boxes, etc. How wrong I was.
IT and AES (automated election system) experts zeroing on our PCOS machines in the last two elections have shown how easy it is to cheat in a major way by just doing it during the canvassing. No wonder the days of goons snatching ballot boxes are no longer appropriate. There is an easier more wholesale way to accomplish election tampering.
Meanwhile, voters in the last automated elections do not know if their vote counted or not as there were no precinct results, no idea of how one’s ballot was recorded and even less, if it was counted. The machine had taken over and very mysteriously and suspiciously, at that.
Now there is a bit of good news which I was surprised to read in Augusto “Gus” Lagman’s column today and not as a news item in the broadsheets. In the February 16 meeting this year of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee the Comelec announced that Lagman’s recommendation that all Election Returns (ERs) be made available in a public website has been approved. This is a very welcome move. Each of us can check it for the results in our precinct as well as all the other city and town precincts all around the country. And compare them with the municipal, city, provincial canvassing results for discrepancies, mistakes or outright manipulation.
Not being a techie, even though it is a matter of downloading from the website and checking, etc., I and the non-techie public need to have instructions on how to detect fraud if there is. According to Lagman, if we check these data right we can catch “dagdag bawas” and the 60-30-10 cheating formula which has been in use and is the source of offers for electoral cheating by unscrupulous techies to candidates. These blackguards demand millions of pesos on the grounds that they are saving you election expenses. All you have to do is go through the motions of campaigning and in that way not spending too much energy or money. Just give them the contract and you will get the 60-30-10 result. Sixty for you, of course, with the millions you pay to get it. This is reportedly done during the canvassing.
In the new process, the ER data on the website will consist of the precinct number, voter turnout, names of the teachers manning the precinct as Board of Election Inspectors, time stamps, etc. Lagman refers to these items as the metadata, which are transmitted to the canvassing steps mentioned above.
The public then has to use the opportunity offered to be vigilant, check the election return numbers, compare to the canvass numbers, etc. and raise a ruckus if they do not agree because of visible discrepancies.
How to do this using computer technology is difficult for senior citizens and other non-techie types. So, I have requested Lagman, and he has promised to do so, to come out with information to the public and how go step by step checking the elections returns and in determining if results are valid or suspicious compared to the canvass results.
The Comelec decision to accept the Lagman recommendation has been a voluntary and can-do move by the electoral body for which the public is happy.
Meanwhile, in another news item, this time well covered by the broadsheets, is the Supreme Court’s order to the Comelec to provide voters a receipt of their vote (which should be left at the precinct after being printed and approved by the voter as being his correct vote) upon Senator Dick Gordon’s petition to do so.
Comelec is not happy with this order because they claim it will add more time to the voting process as voters wait for the printout, read it and put it back (some may want to linger in the crowded precincts or even bring it out as a souvenir or proof for a paid vote).
Comelec may be initially right but I urge them to be positive and adopt a can-do attitude.
Make the automatic machine contractor solve this problem of time by improving his machine a bit. I for one want to see my vote one more time after the machine eats it up and it disappears from my view. It would do a lot to quiet fears of irregularity and cheating. Think about it, Comelec.
Thank goodness for people like Gus Lagman and his band who do not give up in their quest for electoral reform. Thank you, too, to Dick Gordon for his perspicacity in seeing his petition through at the Supreme Court. The final solution: do away with those PCOS machines of ill-fame and count manually and then canvass automatically.
Let us look forward to better electoral counting.