Elections are three days away. And so far, we have not heard much about how the election returns will be announced to the public so that they will be believable and reflect a credible election. The way it was done in the past two elections just will not do.
If Comelec plans to do it the usual way as in 2010 and 2013, they will be met with skepticism, cynicism and downright doubt and anger. Take the ordinary voter who goes to his precinct, votes and even checks his vote through a receipt. The next information he gets is the canvass results without any proof that they are based on accurate election returns because the election returns are not mentioned or displayed anywhere. Ever since automation, the voter in the precinct has no proof to believe what the canvass results show.
Meanwhile, all we hear from Comelec are petty details about thermal paper being ordered, bidded out and finally donated. One does not wish to look a gift horse in the mouth but how sure is Comelec about the quality of the thermal paper donated by Smartmatic that is already under fire for its untrustworthy machines as evidenced by enough past election events? Then the next petty matter is the scissors that will be needed to cut the voter receipt from the machine and where and how and who will win the bid. That seems to be a time-wasting event when there is so much to do.
Then comes the matter of the “palpak” mall voting, something talked about endlessly with even a signing ceremony only to end with a whimper just two weeks before the election. It would have been illegal and so it was scrapped. It seems Comelec didn’t think the legal implications through and it had to be an outside party to read them the riot act.
And now for the most disappointing event, which began by raising hopes that the election returns would be credible enough because citizens could check out the election returns by precinct from a public website that Comelec agreed to do before the Joint Oversight Committee of the Senate and the House. Former Comelec Commissioner Augusto Lagman, an IT expert, calls this “the most important Comelec decision made” under the Smartmatic circumstances (dubious) for credible elections. That would have been uploading all the election returns by precinct with details like number of registered voters, number of voters who actually voted, the names of the Board of Election Inspectors, the timeline and of course the votes garnered by each candidate. Every citizen could then go to the public website, get the information above and compare it with the results reported by the Board of Canvassers based on the election returns from each of the precincts. This would be the only way that the public would have a chance to audit the results from automated elections, not just handing in their vote and wondering if it was counted right.
It would also do away with “dagdag-bawas,” 60-30-10 and other such shenanigans identified with automated elections when they are not transparent.
But the euphoria that this decision made in the Joint Oversight Committee did not last.
Commissioner Christian Robert Lim, chairman of the Election Committee of the Comelec, changed the terms of reference after meeting with political parties and substituted a so-called central server that will not be subject to public audit. So back to Square One of the mysterious way that Comelec via Smartmatic counts the votes.
By the way, creating a public website is not rocket science. Any IT person can do it. Not having it specially after having announced that it was in the works makes the public very uneasy about what Comelec is up to. Are they bumbling, fudging, ignorant, unwilling?
Meanwhile, out there candidates have already contracted their own IT experts to either game the system, thwart the results by foul means or just plain manipulate it out of the public eye.
This is not the way to establish that a credible election has been accomplished. And Comelec is mandated to manage credible elections. Ever since automation came around they have not only not reassured the public that the results are accurate, they have actually planted the seeds of doubt about whether they are counting right by not being transparent.
Already doubts have been raised about the overseas voting results. Will more trouble occur with this singular sin of omission of a public website?
If it comes to pass we will know whom to blame.