Analysis: Securing the victory of the electronic ballot

Dindo Manhit, President of the Stratbase-Albert del Rosario Institute (ADRi) for Strategic and International Studies

Image Source: The Philippine Star

The Philippine electoral landscape—once notoriously marred by slow manual counting, rotational blackouts, vote rigging, and gun violence—has drastically improved.

The continued adoption of the automated polling system, particularly the Vote Counting Machine or VCM (formerly called the Precinct Count Optimal Scan or PCOS machine) during the recently held Philippine general elections on May 9, 2016 did not only revolutionize the entire electoral process of tallying, transmission and consolidation of votes; over and above, it restored the faith of Filipinos in elections as an instrument of instilling greater transparency and accountability on political leaders as well as facilitating peaceful and orderly transition of power.

Voters are more satisfied with elections

The latest Pulse Asia survey which was conducted on July 2 to 8, 2016 empirically reflects the renewed public confidence in the electoral process throughout the country.

First, perception of orderliness of voting was at record high, with 93 percent of respondents in July 2016 attesting that the recent election was orderly and relatively free from confusion, compared to 92 percent in June 2013, and 86 percent in April 2013. Second, occurrence of vote-buying declined, with only 25 percent of respondents claiming that there was vote-buying, in contrast with 34 percent in June 2013 and 38 percent in April 2013.

Third, the perceived presence of cheating declined as well, with only 10 percent of respondents conceding that there were cheating incidents in their areas, unlike in June 2013 (13 percent) and April 2013 (28 percent). Fourth, the presence of violence significantly dropped, with only 4 percent responding that violence erupted in their jurisdictions, compared to 10 percent in June 2013 and 16 percent in April 2013.

Fifth, the electorate took notice of the drastic improvement in the release of election results, with 92 percent saying that the release was fast, compared to that in June 2013 (86 percent) and April 2013 (71 percent). Lastly, credibility of election results went up as well, with 89 percent affirming that the results were believable, compared to 88 percent in June 2013 and 76 percent in April 2013.

Comparing the 2016 general elections result with that in 2010, one may observe progress across three important standards: presence of cheating, speed of counting of votes in the Commission on Elections (Comelec), and credibility of results. With regard to the first, only 5 percent of the respondents claimed that there was more cheating while 41 percent said there was less cheating, 10 percent same as before with rampant cheating, 22 percent same as before with little cheating, and 23 percent uncertain.

One may observe progress across three important standards: presence of cheating, speed of counting of votes in the Commission on Elections, and credibility of results.

With regard to the second, a whopping 78 percent of the respondents attested that the speed was faster while 7 percent said it was slower, 12 percent as fast as before, 2 percent as slow as before, and 2 percent uncertain. With regard to the third, 63 percent believed that the recent results were more credible while 9 percent thought that it was less credible, 20 percent as credible as before, 2 percent not credible as before, and 5 percent uncertain.

Aside from surveying the opinion of the electorate on the conduct of elections, Pulse Asia also examinedpublic satisfaction with the usage of the automated polling system or the counting of votes through the VCMs. Overall, 81 percent of all of the interviewees were satisfied with the automated system, 12 percent may or may not be satisfied, and 7 percent were dissatisfied. Among the 91 percent registered voters with biometrics, 82 percent were satisfied, 10 percent may or may not be satisfied, and 7 percent were dissatisfied. Finally, among those who voted last May 2016 elections, 83 percent were satisfied, 10 percent may or may not be satisfied, and 7 percent were dissatisfied.

When asked about their preference for the continuance of automated voting in future elections, an overwhelming 88 percent of all of the interviewees expressed support for it while only 9 percent rejected it and 3 percent remained uncertain. Among the registered voters with biometrics, 89 percent said yes to its continuance while 9 percent dissented and 2 percent were uncertain. Among the 84 percent of those who cast their vote last May 2016 elections, 89 percent affirmed their desire to retain the automated system while 9 percent declined and 2 percent were uncertain.

Political implications and way forward

The adoption of the automated polling system, particularly the VCM contributed largely to ensuring the success of the recently concluded Philippine general elections. The overall satisfaction of Filipinos with the new system is clearly manifested through positive results across all indices in the latest Pulse Asia survey. Although far from being perfect, the new system digitized, simplified and expedited the whole canvassing process, thereby ensuring greater transparency, credibility, fairness, and accuracy of the general elections and shrinking the space for politicians and other third parties to interfere in the electoral outcome.

The overall satisfaction of Filipinos with the new system is clearly manifested through positive results across all indices in the latest Pulse Asia survey.

Furthermore, the successful conduct of the 2016 elections contributed largely in cementing the political legitimacy of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration which won with the salvific platform of “Tunay na Pagbabago” or Radical Change. This may be contrasted with, say, the 2004 elections when the “Hello Garci” scandal put into question the very credibility of the results of manual polling system which then the twin negative effect of undermining the political legitimacy of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and precipitating mass mobilizations calling for her ouster. With a sweeping mandate from the plurality, if not majority, of the Filipino population, Duterte and his team of elected officials are in a much better position to avert political instability arising from legitimacy crisis, on the one hand, and enact much-needed structural reforms, on the other hand. These include re-establishment of law and order, democratization of economic growth and development, and re-structuring of the form of government.

With a sweeping mandate from the plurality, if not majority, of the Filipino population, Duterte and his team of elected officials are in a much better position to avert political instability arising from legitimacy crisis.

It is therefore in the public interest for the Philippine government to uphold the automated polling system in the succeeding general elections. In particular, the Comelec ought to maintain the full implementation of Republic Act 9369 which duly authorizes and institutionalizes the usage of an automated election system. Furthermore, it should resolve in advance outstanding legal and technical issues that may cause future operational interruptions, such as the Comelec-Supreme Court fiasco over the usage of Voter Verification Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT).

Finally, it should extend its logistical and informational reach in partnership with other concerned government agencies, particularly in far-flung areas and overseas to ensure that all eligible voters in all regions and across all socio-economic strata gain equal access to and substantial knowledge on the new technology of electoral democracy in the digital age.

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