Looking Back

Elections then and now


Voting was uneventful where I voted last Monday. No election irregularities, no machine breaking down or jamming. It just took so long—a little past two hours—from the time I entered the barangay hall to the time the machine flashed the message that I had voted successfully. A drop of indelible ink applied on my finger was the last step in a process that should’ve taken just a little more than half an hour. If I were a senior citizen I would have finished in half the time, but I struggle, vainly, to keep from entering middle age. I endured a long, slowly moving line to get the ballot, a long piece of paper that reminded me of school and multiple-choice exams.

I voted in Urdaneta Village in Makati, where three stations with voting machines handled the entire precinct. Since I had received neither a voter’s ID nor a letter confirming or denying my registration filed in October 2011, I was not sure my name would be on the list posted outside the polling center. The night before, I checked online—the Commission on Elections’ server was very slow—and found my precinct number and my active voting status. What the Comelec should do next time is to include the voter’s cluster number to prevent the inconveniences on Election Day itself. Fortunately, there were many helpful volunteers in Urdaneta, mostly eager young people, who made the experience less stressful.

I followed a senior citizen who couldn’t read the lists posted outside because she had forgotten her glasses or was too vain to be seen using glasses in public. We went to a Help Desk where someone found our precinct, cluster, and voter numbers. Why does the Comelec post lists by cluster when it is simpler for everyone to have one alphabetical master list to help people find their proper cluster? I heard that in other places, one had to go from one part of a school building to another just to find their names on the list. Little wonder that some just gave up and went home. The other question is: Why don’t we have elections on a Sunday so that we don’t need to remove one more day from the working year already peppered with nonworking holidays?

Tempers did not rise in Urdaneta because the hall was air-conditioned and cold drinking water was available for free. Chairs were provided for those who had to wait in the long line I was in. Things were not as comfortable in other polling places. The problem in Urdaneta was that the Comelec should have had the common sense to adapt to the number of registered voters. Two stations handled what seemed to be the entire voting population of Urdaneta, while one station handled nearby “Apartment Ridge,” which had voters from five high-rise condominium buildings. Since the Apartment Ridge cluster was far bigger than the two Urdaneta Village clusters combined, common sense (which is unfortunately not common) dictates that a more efficient way of distributing the ballots should have been undertaken. I still cannot understand why it took me close to two hours just to get a ballot. On the whole, my experience was better than most, but the Comelec can make voting easier next time around.

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Municipal elections in Spanish Philippines seemed relatively simple compared to our times because there were not many candidates and electors. American historian Glenn Anthony May studied elections in Batangas in the late 19th century and drew this pattern:

The provincial governor would notify a gobernadorcillo regarding the date and time of a meeting that would comprise an election. The right to participate was restricted to males who comprised the principalia or the leading citizens, namely the gobernadorcillo, cabezas de barangay (barangay heads), cabezas reformados (former heads who had held the post for a minimum of 10 years), capitanes pasados (former gobernadorcillos and others). From this already select group, some would be disqualified due to arrears in tax collection or a civil or criminal case filed against them.

A provincial governor presided over the elections in the town hall or municipio where he was welcomed by the principalia and of course the parish priest. The various laws and rules on elections were read aloud “in the language of the province,” followed by the sorteo or the selection by lots of 12 individuals who will vote with the incumbent gobernadorcillo on that day.

Why 13 people? I guess that was the number of Jesus and his 12 disciples. The names of eligible men were placed in urns and drawn by a boy who by law was not older than seven years.

After the sorteo the 13 electors would be ushered into a room where the governor delivered a speech reminding them to cast aside “all personal interest, all particular preference, and all party spirit, being directed only by their concern for the well-being of the townspeople and the proper administration of the town.” They were advised to vote for one who was “most meritorious, most capable, most honorable, and most zealous in the service of the [Crown and Church].” The electors wrote the names of their first and second choices for the post of gobernadorcillo on slips of paper. Their election was not final because it required the approval of the governor-general in Manila, and it often took months before the winner is proclaimed.

Then as now, elections are a major spectacle, a necessary public ritual. Times have changed, but the way we deal with elections has changed little.

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  • josh_alexei

    Well, I vote in a Parliamentary Form of Government and in our Feds, there are 305 seats to fill during an election…and all voters must only Mark one Single X on the ballot…there might be a few candidate depending on the individuals running in any of the 305 seats, but in most cases, there will only 3 or 5 representing the Major parties…(there is a Nuisance deposit, where if a certain votes is not meet gets forfeited, so most who can’t even convince their Ma to vote for them just don’t run, even the rule says that if you can vote, you can also run). There are also several weekends for advance polls for those who would not be able to vote during election day, which is alway a working day and a Tuesday…Registration is some kind of Automatic and the Voters List is Permanent and follows the voter as he moves from house to house, street to street or Province to Province..(there is the income tax returns, Driver license, change of address, or just go to the polls and show the new address and vote and the data will automatically updated) Voting will usually takes a minute or two, result about an hours after the polls officially closed..and since I can remember, no incident of violence yet..posters and signs cleaned up within two days after the elections.

    My Point, these are doable and we have been doing these long long time ago.

  • Vincent Maldia

    the computerized queing system used in BPI plus the fact that you can transact in ANY BPI branch all over the philippines could make finding your precinct obsolete. It can be done with current tech. I could imagine a future elections where you could vote anywhere withing your province and it would count. We would need foolproof electronic id’s though

    • josh_alexei

      We don’t need the indelible ink, we just present our Voters notice, the poll clerk counter check it with the Permanent list, scratch the name and give you the ballot…not in the LIST? then add your name with a any Proper id and you are registered. Moving? your registration move with you…with any form you returns, driver license change of address or any government form…there is even a Plan for On line voting..we do File Taxes on line now and just about every government transaction.

  • mewo_meow

    Buwagin nalang ang senado. Magastos masyado.

    • Mario Salinas

      Too easy for you to say that, kapatid. But what alternative options do you offer?

      • mewo_meow

        Unicameral system

    • penoy2012

      Pati ang House. Pero kahit 20 years lang,

  • Don Ryder

    Dati pala mga edukado at mga nagbabayad ng buwis lamang ang maaring bumoto. Sana ganun na rin ngayon. Sapagkat kung mga nagbabayad ng buwis at mga edukado lamang ang bumoboto, tanggal lahat ng trapo, wala nang kurap sa gobyerno, at gaganda ang buhay ng Pilipino. Maikli na rin ang pila, wala nang patayan at bilihan tuwing eleksyon, at gaganda ang palakad ng gobyerno.

    • Mux

      So you mean to say housewives, unemployed, and students should not vote because they don’t pay taxes?

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