Voting in malls—how important is it?


I WAS a bit surprised when six commissioners of the Comelec issued a memo to their chairman saying there is a failure of leadership in the institution. But while I did not expect the commissioners to make such an unprecedented official act (my impression of Chairman Andres Bautista is that he is truly a likable person), I must, however, agree with them that the chairman’s decision-making and set of priorities are way off. Being a likable person and being a good leader are, of course, two different things.

The commissioners specifically cited the delay in the release of the teachers’ allowances. There are no ifs and buts about this; it’s plainly a failure in the execution of a very simple but very important act. No elaboration of this issue is necessary.

Let me instead discuss two items that demonstrate his weak recognition of the right priorities. First is the “voting centers in malls” project that he tried to implement. Apparently, there was no resolution supporting that plan. Yet, newspaper reports gave the impression that arrangements with the mall owners were already being finalized, thus strengthening the voters’ belief that there were really going to be voting precincts in at least the super malls.

How critical, or how important was that Comelec plan, anyway, to justify the Comelec chairman having spent so much time and effort on it? What benefits might our elections gain from the project?

Let’s see: it would, of course, be much easier for DAPs (differently-abled persons) and senior citizens to exercise their right to vote, as malls are not only air-conditioned, but they have many other conveniences, like elevators, better-equipped washrooms, coffee shops and restaurants, secure environments, and other amenities that we won’t find in public schools, the usual venues of voting centers. The lure of shops, cinemas, and other entertainment places would also encourage DAPs and senior citizens to go out of their homes to vote.

But would it really matter all that much? Where I reside—and I’m a “super-senior” citizen (in golfing circles, it means that I’m over 70 years of age)—all I need to do is cross the street and I’d be in the school where my precinct is. Much more convenient than going to the mall. That holds true for dozens of other senior citizens in my community. And, most probably, many other communities. I don’t even have to go up the stairs to my precinct—although I do—because a “runner” can bring my ballot to a special area at the ground floor, wait for me to vote, then bring my ballot back to my assigned precinct where he can feed it into the machine for me.

By the way, I’m truly disappointed, that the Comelec has not improved this system. DAPs and senior citizens have to wait a long time for their ballot and, worse, the “runners” get to see the choices of the voters and even tamper with them. Very bad.

It won’t take much effort to, for instance, create separate precincts for DAPs and senior citizens, then locate such precincts at the ground floors of public schools. It would be easy to identify the DAPs because earlier than two elections ago, the Comelec ran a survey of DAPs who were qualified voters, including the type of disabilities they had. The Comelec can also easily determine who the senior citizens are, simply by checking the birth dates of the voters in the Computerized Voters’ List.

So, how difficult is it for the Comelec to reorganize the “Project of Precincts,” so DAPs and senior citizens can have separate, officially assigned precincts that are located at the ground floor of public schools? This project would definitely have a more positive impact than the “voting centers in malls.” But they haven’t done it. Do they even have plans of doing it?

The Comelec’s (or the chairman’s) priorities are really way off.

A second example is the very critical step that the Comelec could have implemented in the 2016 elections—one that would have made the electronic transmission of Election Returns and the consolidation and canvassing of votes very transparent—but which it did not implement properly. We brought it up during a hearing of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee. The Comelec agreed to implement it and must have instructed Smartmatic to do it. It’s not a complicated step. Yet the Comelec and/or Smartmatic botched its implementation.

All they needed to do was upload to a public website ALL the Election Returns received by ALL the City/Municipal Boards of Canvassers. This single step would have made available to the voters the ability to check whether the electronic transmission of Election Returns was not tampered with. It would also have given them the ability to check if the canvassing of votes was accurate or not … was tampered with or not.

If the Comelec sincerely had wanted to make the elections transparent to all, they could also have made it easy for political parties to check the accuracy of electronic transmission and canvassing of votes by making available to them not only printed copies of Election Returns, but also digital copies on “flash drives” (USBs). Political parties would have been able to consolidate all the information coming from these USB drives and to automate the comparison of the precinct data against canvassing data—a very tedious process if done manually. Again, it’s not a difficult step to add, yet it would have added tons of benefits to the monitoring efforts of political parties. Comelec should do it.

If Comelec can incorporate the above simple steps, then it would leave the PCOS/VCM (Precinct Count Optical Scan/Vote Counting Machine) counting of votes as the ONLY remaining non-transparent step in our election system.

And that’s the reason why advocates of a better, automated election system for the Philippines have for many years been clamoring to junk Smartmatic’s PCOS/VCM!


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