It’s the process
The most vital quality of a successful election is public confidence, but confidence not so much in the outcome as in the process. Confidence is best won through the conduct of safe, orderly, and honest polls—but a robust process that citizens are confident in can withstand even concerted cheating or organized intimidation. Again: It is not so much the outcome, the actual results, as the process.
We hope we are wrong, but it seems to us that Commission on Elections Chair Sixto Brillantes thinks the results of the 2013 midterm vote, including the unforeseen topping of the Senate race by Grace Poe, already constitute proof of electoral integrity. His grudging recognition of flaws in the process is actually based on the assumption that, well, all’s well that ends well.
Now there may be a major error at the heart of the so-called 60-30-10 theory—something which a mathematician like reelected senator Koko Pimentel has been quick to point out—but Brillantes’ response has been to take it personally, to involve his own person. “I’m sure [that there was no fraud], because the pattern that they’re [citing] would mean it was programmed. Definitely, it was not programmed. I will stake my reputation on that: No one programmed it.”
To ask a very simple question: How would he know? The right answer is to bring out the Comelec’s own programmers and computer experts, and let them debunk the theory. But it seems Brillantes does not take this particular threat to the credibility of the 2013 vote seriously; hence his take-it-from-me, I’ll-stake-my-reputation-on-that answer. If he were back to his old trade as election lawyer, arguing a case before the Comelec, would he be so cavalier as to offer the same statement, either as argument or as proof?
History tells us that tampering with the vote can unseat or unsettle governments. The Marcos dictatorship collapsed not because of economic mismanagement or grave human rights abuses, but because Ferdinand Marcos cheated at the polls. (The walkout of the computer programmers when they detected election fraud was key.) Gloria Arroyo endured a five-year legitimacy crisis because she was involved in a cheating scandal casting doubt on her 2004 victory. Even Joseph Estrada found himself on the slow barge out of Malacañang because of what many people saw as a manipulated vote on the floor of the Senate impeachment court.
We need Brillantes, then, to acknowledge the growing number of complaints about the May 13 elections with the seriousness they deserve.
At this point, the technical term is still “variance,” not “discrepancy” or “anomaly.” But the variances between the actual election results and the initial findings of the random manual audit (RMA) have added to the miasma of suspicion that is gathering around the elections.
Some of the suspicions are rooted in the original sin of the Smartmatic contract; the waiver of the so-called paper trail, for instance, which would have given each voter a PCOS printout of his or her vote, now feeds the sense that something was not quite right. If all voters had a receipt of their vote, there would be much less doubt about the results.
Other suspicions are based on the conduct of the vote and the canvass. Over a quarter of all PCOS machines were reported to have suffered technical problems on Election Day. Some 23 percent of all votes were not transmitted to the transparency servers the Comelec set up precisely to serve as a countercheck; the idea, advanced by Brillantes himself, that telecommunication companies were to blame for the weakness or the outright lack of the necessary signal was rejected by the telcos themselves.
And now, the variances in the RMA and the 60-30-10 pattern.
It is no hyperbole, then, for the former national treasurer, Leonor Magtolis-Briones, to encourage academic institutions to “lend their expertise in this crucial stage when the mandate of the elected officials is being questioned by many sectors.”
This much seems clear. We cannot go back to the Dark Ages and resume a manual canvass. At the same time, the PCOS machines seem hopelessly compromised, their vulnerabilities both online and offline now clear for all election operators to see. We need Brillantes and the rest of the Comelec to subject the electoral process we used on May 13 to the most rigorous tests and audits and counterchecks; only then will the threats to public confidence subside.
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