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Reli L. German: Kamayan sa botohan?


Right after the Holy Week, Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto resurrected the idea of manual voting for the mid-term elections in May next year. Actually, what he wants is the adoption of a hybrid system where the voting and counting of votes will be conducted manually while the transmission of results will be done electronically.

If I understand it correctly, this system would call for the use of paper ballots where each voter will write down the candidates of his choice and then put the ballot in the ballot box.

After the polls close, the ballots are taken out of the box and the votes for each candidate are then counted one by one. But during the process, poll watchers employed by the candidates will be allowed to see the ballots to make sure that the names therein are correctly read and the votes for their candidates are reflected in the tally board. After all the ballots are read, the results are then recorded, again manually, in the appropriate forms. In plain language, this means magiging kamayan uli ang botohan at bilangan.

Under Senator Sotto’s proposal, and assuming that there are no questions and that the proceedings are concluded smoothly, the results in each precinct would then be transmitted electronically to the next higher levels of election officials and up to the national office of the Commission on Elections (Comelec)..

However, what I am relating here regarding the manual part of the election process is not really a detailed description of the entire procedure, and I may have omitted certain aspects. In any case, the manual conduct of the election is a time-consuming, tiresome exercise where, as in past elections, the counting of votes alone could drag on well into the late morning hours of the next day, resulting in unavoidable delays in the proclamation of eventual winners.
Objections to the manual process in elections are precisely grounded in the fact that it sacrifices speed in the determination of the winners. And speed is such a critical element in preventing fraud as it denies evil-intentioned parties the time they need to cheat and alter election results, especially in cases where the contests are close.

This is not to cast aspersions on any person or on political partisans, but in the 1992 presidential elections for instance which was conducted manually, the late Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago hotly contested that the results did not actually and fairly reflect the will of the electorate. She lost by a very narrow margin of just 874,348 votes to eventual winner Fidel V. Ramos. It may be relevant to stress here that it took several days (was it weeks?) before the official final results were known.

Now, compare that with the speed by which the automated election system, using vote counting machines came up with the results of the 2016 presidential elections. That system produced the results in a matter of hours. It was widely bruited about that there were plans by certain parties to alter the results of the contest but the technology used by the Comelec effectively prevented any fraudulent schemes from being carried out.

It is therefore logical to have the same technology used again in the May 2019 election. While there were some perceived faults in the system, there is more than enough time – at least 10 months — for the Comelec to remedy these.

Recent news reports say Comelec wants to eventually buy the vote counting machines it leased for P8 billion in 2016 from technology provider Smartmatic. Comelec spokesman James Jimenez was quoted as saying that under the lease contract, the poll body could purchase the machines for an additional cost of just P2.21 billion. Reportedly, the machine will also be reconditioned and refurbished by the technology provider at no cost to the poll body. That translates to an effective savings of about P5.8 billion if rented anew. Seems like a wise decision, isn’t it?