After May 9
It still takes some getting used to, the speed with which election results are known now. The May 9 vote was already the third automated election in our history, so we have had some experience with the really quick count and the equally quick canvass. But the 2016 election set new records: President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s plurality landslide was clear before midnight of Election Day, and the congressional canvass (conducted during reasonable hours) took only three days. Many local government officials were proclaimed by the Commission on Elections the day after people went to the polls, and the 12 winning senatorial candidates (not merely the first six or the first eight) were all declared at the Comelec proclamation. The voter turnout, at 81 percent, was a record too.
By these measures, the 2016 election was a resounding success.
But the glitches and shortcomings were of a serious nature, and the down-to-the-wire race for vice president threw these into sharp relief.
Some of the vote-counting machines malfunctioned; some voters could not find their precincts; multiple instances of old-school, retail vote-buying were reported; election-related violence, while reduced in number, continued to mar the long election season.
Above all, the tradition of a third-party organization mandated to conduct a quick count was put to a serious test, because neither legal provisions nor previous experience prepared the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting—or the public—for an election that would be decided by a margin of less than 1 percent.
It did not help that Smartmatic, the company that partnered again with the Comelec to enable the automation, almost single-handedly brought the election into disrepute, through an ill-advised quick fix. No one has yet come up with credible evidence to disprove the Comelec’s description of the Smartmatic as merely “cosmetic,” or the weight of the collective judgment of many IT experts that the tweaking of the script for the transparency server did not affect any of the election results.
We support the call for an investigation of the incident—to put the matter to rest. But even if the unfortunate incident had not taken place, the tightness of the vice presidential contest would still have tested the limits of the election system.
Going forward, we should consider ways to strengthen the democratic project.
The debates organized by the Comelec through the help of lead networks proved to be a game changer. We should find ways to make these debates a regular feature of the election calendar rather than dependent on the disposition of election commissioners.
The main surveys helped us keep track of election ups and downs. At the same time, we recognize that some surveys proved to be less successful in monitoring the public pulse. We should find ways to hold survey organizations to greater account, without compromising their exercise, recognized by the Supreme Court, to conduct preelection surveys.
If the Duterte administration were to convene a constitutional convention, delegates should include a new provision in the basic law, organizing a second round in the election of a president, a run-off, to give the winning candidate a majority mandate—thus ending the post-Marcos era of plurality presidents.
A constitutional convention should also consider redefining the Senate; our own history tells us that election by district created a much more representative Senate, without being a hindrance to the national ambitions of a Quezon or a Recto.
The same convention should also consider outlawing political butterflies, in part by strengthening political parties through counterpart funding from the government and other such mechanisms.
Last but not least, a technological fix: We should find ways to ensure equally fast transmission of all election returns, regardless of region or bailiwick, urban classification or rural status. In a closely divided electorate, even a 96-percent-complete quick count is not complete enough.
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