The issuance by the Supreme Court of a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on the maintenance contract with Smartmatic signed by former Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes just three days before he retired from government service and without the required bidding process, could be the turning point in the country’s quest for the most appropriate election system.
The SC voted 12-2, with Chief Justice Sereno and Associate Justice Velasco dissenting for the reason that they wanted to hear oral arguments first, rather than immediately issuing a TRO (AJ Carpio was abroad).
Comelec Resolution 9922 approving the signing of that maintenance contract, on the other hand, was a 5-2 vote. Commissioners Christian Robert Lim, Parreno, Tagle, and Yusoph concurred with Brillantes.Commissioners Guia and Arthur Lim dissented.
As a result of the TRO, Comelec released several statements to media, saying that they may be forced to adopt manual elections, with an assurance, somewhat, that the public should not fear a “no election” situation, or No-el. Mentioning the latter, which was totally unnecessary, can also be interpreted as Comelec’s way of threatening the SC that if it does not lift the TRO soon enough, No-el could be a real possibility. That is, of course, hogwash!
I have two quick comments on that Comelec reaction. First, why has the Comelec, and for that matter, several pro-Smartmatic congressmen, been demonizing manual elections when it’s a system that our country had used, quite successfully, since the 1940s and until 2007? It’s the system that elevated Roxas, Quirino, Magsaysay, Garcia, Macapagal, Marcos, C. Aquino, Ramos, Estrada, and Arroyo to the presidency. Manual counting at the precincts is also acknowledged the world over to be the most transparent system available today.
Surely, it has its disadvantages. And we should recognize them, if we are to eliminate, or at least minimize them. Manual counting by the teachers is prone to inaccuracies, especially after they have been at it for many hours. Tension at the precincts can build up especially in “hot spots”, which can then lead to violence. During the transport of the ballot boxes, they can be snatched and replaced by fake ballots, or the contents destroyed.
Then, the worst problem of all – the canvassing, from municipal, to provincial, to national, can take 25 to 42 days! Because of this lengthy process, the results become very vulnerable to manipulation, or as it has been commonly referred to, vulnerable to “dagdag-bawas.” At this point, it is important to understand that “dagdag-bawas” occurs in canvassing, and hardly in precinct-counting. The reason is obvious: the counts at the precincts are too small that manipulating the results wouldn’t give candidates much advantage anyway; and it’s much more difficult to implement, as there are too many voters watching the procedure at the precincts. In contrast, there are only a few people who witness the canvassing at the municipal and provincial levels.
My second comment is that the Comelec and the pro-Smartmatic congressmen, while demonizing manual counting, fail to explain that that step only took 5 to 12 hours in the past and that it was canvassing that took many weeks to complete.
Given the above facts (that Comelec and the pro-Smartmatic congressmen simply refuse to comprehend), it now becomes easier to analyze the past system and then design a sound technology-assisted version that responds to most, if not all the problems and disadvantages in the old manual process.
Precinct-counting, 5-12 hours – let’s increase this by 50% to allow for a bigger number of voters per precinct, so roughly, 8-18 hours. Canvassing, 25-42 days.
Just look at the numbers. One doesn’t have to be a systems practitioner; choosing the right approach in adopting technology is pure common sense. Automate the canvassing. Retain manual precinct-counting (and save billions of pesos), but look for a way by which the results can be transmitted electronically to the canvassing points.
Canvassing can be shortened to about five days, barring major transmission problems. With proper control procedures, “dagdag-bawas” can be eliminated. Completely. With electronic transmission of Election Returns, ballot-snatching during transport can also be eliminated. Again, with proper control procedures, tampering during transmission can be prevented, or at the very least, easily rectified.
There’s more than one way of converting the results of manual counting to digital format so they can be transmitted electronically, but I find the following the most attractive because it also enhances the transparency of counting: use a laptop to duplicate the manual counting (using the “taras” system) and project it to a big screen, so more people can witness the progress. At the end of the counting, the manual and laptop counts can be compared and corrections, if needed, made. Printing of the 30 copies of the Election Returns would be automated; so also with the electronic transmission to the canvassing points.
Redesigning the ballot form, the Election Returns, the Tally Sheet can speed up manual counting by a bit. Reorganizing the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) can also lighten the load on the teachers (hire more people, create teams). Time and motion studies should be done long before the elections.
Problems with manual counting will not be completely eliminated, but will, however, be substantially reduced due to the greater transparency of the process. And aside from the much lower cost, there are other advantages. All the equipment (laptops, projectors, printers) can be donated to public schools after each election; therefore, no storage and maintenance expenses. All software can be made available to the public.
One thing is certain – the above system is definitely much better than the Smartmatic PCOS system used in the 2010 and 2013 elections where precinct-counting was secret; therefore results were suspect. Canvassing lacked proper controls; therefore it was extremely vulnerable to internal tampering (which we suspect happened).WE SHOULD NOT BUY ANY MORE PCOS MACHINES!