Back to manual elections?
Amid anger and frustration due to the automation glitches that marred the last polls, some election watchdogs, joined by losing candidates and millennial voters, are clamoring for a return to manual elections.
Before joining the clamor, let us first recall the cheating perpetrated during the era of “mano-mano” elections. Because voters were required to write the names of the candidates on the ballot, the elections were dependent on the writing ability of the voters. From this dependency came illegible penmanship, ballots written by one hand, one ballot written by more than one hand, etc., resulting in their invalidation.
Guns, goons and gold were prevalent, because the ballots of terrorized, coerced or bribed voters could easily be identified by the perpetrators during the manual counting via “identifying marks” on the ballots, via the peculiar sequencing of the names voted for multiple positions (like senators or councilors), or via the inclusion of the middle initials or full names of favored candidates.
A systematic way of cheating called “lansadera” flourished. Here, a genuine ballot was spirited out of the polling place, often with the connivance of the Board of Election Inspectors. The ballot was filled up in a safe house and then given to a voter who, after going through the normal process in the polling place, casts it in the ballot box. Thereafter, he/she brought the blank ballot received (and did not use) back to the safe house where it was also filled up. The process was then repeated on and on.
At the end of the voting, manual counting began at the precincts which lasted for several hours, sometimes up to the wee hours of the next day. Ballots were misread, or not read at all, or tallied incorrectly with the “taras.” Or worse, the ballot boxes were stolen or poured with acid or water.
“Wholesale” cheating happened when the election returns (ERs) or the statements of votes (SOVs) were altered or substituted with fake or “excess” forms. This was commonly called “dagdag-bawas.”
The ERs contained the number of votes the candidates obtained from the precincts. A change of one number by writing a zero (say 10 to 100) can alter the results in a town election.
The SOV reflected the consolidation of the ERs from a municipality or city. Again, a change in the SOV from 1,000 to 10,000, or vice versa, spelled victory or defeat at the district or provincial level. The SOVs were the bases of the Boards of Canvassers (BOC) in preparing the certificates of canvass and, eventually, in proclaiming the winners, which at times lasted weeks and even months.
The critical struggles in local polls took place after the precinct counting but prior to proclamation in tedious and expensive litigations known as “preproclamation controversies.” The essential issue was the validity of the ERs. With automated elections, preproclamation suits are no longer possible.
After a candidate was proclaimed winner by the BOC, the victory could still be contested via election protests. After proclamation, cheating consisted mainly of changing or substituting valid ballots with fake or tampered ones while in the custody of the municipal treasurers.
The National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) is proposing a hybrid system whereby voters would write on their ballots, which would be counted manually at the precincts. Then, the results would be inputted into laptops to be transmitted electronically to safely located servers for consolidation and canvassing.
While this proposal has the advantage of transparency at the precinct level, it is vulnerable to the evils of manual voting that I already discussed. If the objective is more transparency, there must be some automated way to achieve it, other than the opaque Smartmatic way.
The next elections are still three years away. Meanwhile, the Comelec should be able to find new methods of minimizing the glitches that tarnished the past polls and of making the process more transparent to answer Namfrel’s valid concerns without risking the horrors of manual voting.
Indeed, while no computer system (whether in banking, airlines, logistics, etc.) is perfect, there are always ways to minimize the imperfections.
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