Why the slowdown?
After a blazing start on Monday night, the unofficial count managed by the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting has slowed to a crawl. The official tally maintained by the Commission on Elections itself, which began the day after the elections, has been even slower. After the excitement over the speed by which election results were being reported right on Monday night, we are back on much more familiar territory: the slow count, vulnerable to manipulation and fraud.
A comparison with the record set by the 2010 elections, the Philippines’ first-ever nationwide automated vote, is instructive. On the evening of May 15, about two full days since the close of the last voting booth, the PPCRV issued a statement of concern: “By midnight last night, barely 70 percent of the total clustered precincts in the Philippines were able to transmit the results to the central transparency server. It is to be noted that at this time during the 2010 National Elections, around 85 percent of the total clustered precincts were able to transmit their votes to the PPCRV server.”
The campaign manager of the administration coalition’s Senate slate, Sen. Franklin Drilon, noted that delays in transmitting election results were encountered only on Wednesday, “when counting progressed to only 69.2 percent from 69.1 percent Tuesday.”
Problems in transmission have been blamed for the unexpected delay. But aside from weakness of telecommunication signals or the outright lack in some areas, the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections said transmission was also hampered by malfunctioning PCOS machines and a lack of modems.
Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes added one more factor: the official nature of the Comelec’s own count. Yesterday (Thursday), he told reporters covering the official canvass at the Philippine International Convention Center: “It’s only natural that [the official canvassing] has to be slower because it goes through stages”—referring to the transmission of the election results from the precincts to the municipal and then the provincial tabulation centers and then finally to the National Board of Canvassers.
Yes, but. It is still slow, in both absolute and relative terms. And the country’s entire history of elections tells us that slow is risky: It is between the casting of the ballot and the canvassing of the votes that much electoral fraud, especially the wholesale kind called dagdag-bawas, or add-subtract, takes place. And it takes place only if the count is slow enough.
The nominal opposition, the United Nationalist Alliance led by Vice President Jejomar Binay, has complained to the Comelec about “manipulated data” and the unaccountable slowdown in transmission. The administration coalition has also voiced its concern (although it did not, like UNA, ask the Comelec to delay the proclamation of the first winning senators).
“We’re not accusing anyone of anything but at this point questions being raised by UNA are the same questions being raised by Team PNoy. Why is there a delay in the transmission? We also want answers,” Secretary Ricky Carandang said.
Instead of clear-cut, convincing answers, the Comelec responded by raising the anxiety level. It decreed yesterday that the transparency servers being managed by the PPCRV and its partner media organizations be suspended, the very same servers which allow third parties to check or validate the official election results. It has since explained that order, with Brillantes saying it was only a suspension meant to show “some respect” for the NBOC, and that the PPCRV and others could still collect election data from the servers but should not announce them. So why didn’t the Comelec say so in the first place?
Part of the problem lies in the way Brillantes and his commissioners seem to place a heavy burden on the people’s compliant trust.
At one point in a press huddle yesterday, he was asked whether it was possible for election fraud operators to switch the compact flash cards of the PCOS machines. His reply: “That’s true. Those with dirty minds will think that way. But the watchers are all there. What CF-card switching? Here we go again. We go back to the outsiders full of doubts and speculations.”
But aren’t these exactly the kind of questions all of us should be asking? It’s not that we have dirty minds; it’s that our voting experience is full of dirty tricks.