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Dec 04th
Home Sections Politics How to "Reinvent" Voting in the Philippines and Make Elections Trustworthy
How to "Reinvent" Voting in the Philippines and Make Elections Trustworthy PDF Print E-mail
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Sections - Politics
Sunday, 12 August 2007 16:35

Since the American colonizers introduced suffrage in the Philippines in the 1910s, many Filipino politicians have  been accused of committing fraud in electoral contests. It appears that cheating, gold, guns and goons have become part and parcel of elections in the Philippines.

 

The May 2004 elections probably dwarfed the 1949 election, which was supposedly the dirtiest presidential voting exercise in the history of the country . . . well up to 2004.

For all the vaunted benefits in speed and accuracy, computerized voting faces now lots of doubts and detractors. Princeton University researchers demonstrated recently that it would take less-than five minutes to hack a computer and alter the voting totals. Even the state-of-the-art computers used in California elections malfunctioned and the tallies had to be rectified by the mandated back-up paper-trail mechanism. The State of Oregon is now shifting to a voting-by-mail program and doing away with actual polling places during election day.

The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) of the Philippines had been accused of so many errors and electoral fraud. But during the recent May 2007 elections, it proved that it could efficiently send out "absentee ballots" to Overseas-Filipino voters. This writer received a well-conceived and very-systematically-done packet that used three envelopes. It was mailed from Manila. The COMELEC used also other safeguards such as stickers to seal the envelope for the ballot and a bigger envelope to use in mailing it to the Philippine diplomatic post in the United States. The COMELEC also came up with a safe and trustworthy way of counting the mailed ballots by the designated consular employees, after the big (mailing) envelopes were inspected first from the outside with the voter’s signature and the proper use of the sticker verified.

Perhaps the Philippines can emulate the Oregon example and do only a voting-by-mail program.

An election using the Oregon experiment may actually produce election results that can be more trustworthy than computerized voting.

All the mailed ballots could be directed to a regional address that the designated political-party representatives can monitor and safeguard – from the first day the mailed ballot envelopes are delivered up to the day they are opened and the ballots tabulated. The reading of the ballots and counting of votes can be done by a team of three to five poll clerks with political-party watchers positioned at their backs. A common tabulating center – like a university or college or even the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) – would offer more security against the goons who used to stuff ballot boxes with fake ballots or even force the poll clerks, especially in rural areas, to read different names from the candidates written on the ballots.

Back-up Scanners

There can be a back-up system of scanners. The ballots – after they are retrieved properly from the mailing envelopes – can be scanned at random to see if the names of the candidates are written only by just one person or a few persons. The questioned (or disputed) ballots can then be examined by handwriting experts and tossed aside if evidence would show that the names of the candidates were written illegally by one person (other than the voters themselves). The envelopes (and the ballots contained therein) from places (like Maguindanao) that used to known before for turning out questionable returns could undergo complete scanning and verification of the handwriting before the ballots are read and the results counted and tabulated. It would be easy to sort out the envelopes and collect them according to their towns or even barrios of origin. The return envelopes could be color-coded and barcodes could be used, which would make it harder to come up with fake ballots and envelopes.

There are more advantages than disadvantages in using a voting-by-mail process. Physical intimidation of voters (done before in polling places) is minimized, if not eliminated. Because the voters receive their ballots at their residence and they are given a certain number of days to fill up the ballot and mail the self-addressed (and better yet, postage-prepaid) envelope back. This would mean that political warlords and their goons have to go house-to-house to intimidate voters, if not confiscate their mailed COMELEC voting packets. Can one warlord intimidate the entire town, city or village? In some areas, a warlord can easily intimidate voters during the election day because all the goons have to do is surround the polling place. But if there is no precinct where they can intimidate voters, what electoral fraud can the local goons commit?

Built-in Safeguards

Surely some voters can still sell their votes but the proposed voting-by-mail process would make it tougher to do so. How? Some built-in safeguards – that the COMELEC and the political parties could agree upon – can be implemented.

Cost wise, the voting-by-mail process can be less expensive because there would be no need to transport the ballots, ballot boxes and other election paraphernalia to all the precincts in all the far-flung areas of the archipelago. There would be no need to pay teachers to staff the precincts and assure their safety and well-being. There would be no need also to bring back the same ballot boxes and electoral forms back to the municipal hall or COMELEC-designated office for tabulation. There would be no need for army or police units to be detailed to maintain peace and order during the election day and especially in the evening of the counting of the votes.

The country can even use one national center to do all the examination of the envelopes, the opening of the envelopes containing the ballot, the reading and tabulation. Or at the very least, the country can do with 13 regional centers to do the same. All the mailing expenses would be earned by the Philippine Postal Service, which is government-owned. Perhaps all the process of reading the ballots, counting the votes and tabulating the results can be done in less-than five working days for the entire national and local elections. This would certainly make Philippine elections more trustworthy and the proclaimed winners receiving the proper mandate.

What say you, COMELEC commissioners and the Philippine government’s policy makers and decision makers?



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Last Updated on Sunday, 06 April 2008 03:39
 

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Quote of the Day

If a man will begin with certainties,he shall end with doubts;but if he will be content to begin with doubts,he shall end in certainties.-- Sir Francis Bacon, 1561-1626