Dindo Manhit, President of the Stratbase ADR Institute
The conduct of electoral contests has been a defining element of a democratic life. As a litmus test for democracy, elections bring into the fore the power of the ballot and the sanctity of the vote.
In Philippine electoral history, electoral irregularities and problems have been prevalent, and these have always been seen as an inability or lack of capacity to protect the vote. However, for the past two election cycles (2013 & 2016), the negative trend has been reversed. This positive development is attributed to the automation of the electoral process.
The past two elections were generally orderly, faster, and credible, with fewer incidences of cheating. In the Ulat ng Bayan Survey (2-8 July 2016), Pulse Asia revealed that 93% agreed with the statement that the May 2013/2016 elections were characterized by “ORDERLINESS OF VOTING, NO CONFUSION BY THE PUBLIC IN YOUR PLACE.” The very positive perception was true across geographic areas and classes. Further, only 10% and 4% respectively said they agreed that there was “PRESENCE OF CHEATING IN YOUR PLACE.”
In terms of results, 95% agreed that the “RELEASE OF THE RESULTS OF THE COUNT IN YOUR PLACE WAS FAST,” and 89% agreed about the believability of the results. And compared with the 2010 elections, 63% said that the results of the 2016 elections were more credible.
As for the 2016 elections alone, 81% in general and 82% of those who voted expressed satisfaction with the automated polling system. For the continuance of the automated voting in future elections, 88% agreed. Consequently, there was public confidence in the said elections where 74% expressed a “big” trust rating. As for the vote counting machines, 93% among those who actually voted said it was “easy.”
The impact of technology on elections is indeed positive. Citizen-led initiative Democracy Watch (DemWatch), in particular, called the 2016 polls the most successful and credible in recent history, and that automated polling system should be above senseless politicking. Given the record transparency of the process, any allegations about irregularities should be based on verifiable facts and not on blatant or discernible political spin.
To maintain this level of trust and credibility in the process, the group also called for 100% transmission, pointing out that transparency had been and will continue to be key in guaranteeing that the elections are credible.
“It helps establish trust and confidence in the process as voters have an opportunity to ensure that the results reflect the true will of the people,” the group said.
The Automated Election System (AES), the group pointed out, brought the country from the “dark days of manual elections straight into the digital age,” marked by fast proclamations and fewer incidents of poll-related violence. The Vote Counting Machines, in particular, it added, have proved to be the safest, most efficient, and most user-friendly machines that had been used in the country’s electoral history.
As in the past, DemWatch noted, COMELEC opened the AES to scrutiny by inviting experts and the public to ensure that the code had not been tampered with in any way that could affect the results of the polls.
While vote buying could be eventually addressed through ardent political education accompanied by far reaching economic reforms, the sanctity of the ballots casted could be protected by automation.
Two more encouraging things promote a positive and hopeful spirit in the upcoming mid-term elections. Aside from the good assessment conducted by the S&P Global Ratings about our economy, which eventually prompted them to upgrade our credit ratings a notch higher, the Pew Research Center (29 April 2019) on the other hand revealed that 69% of Filipinos are satisfied with “the way democracy is working.” The degree of dissatisfaction was unchanged at 31%. This is in contrast with the situation that the title of their study is implying — “Many Across the Globe Are Dissatisfied with How Democracy Is Working.”
In particular, 80% say that the statement “the right to free speech is protected” depicts our situation well and 86% agree that “most people have a good chance to improve their standard of living.” Further, another 63% say that “the court system treats everyone fairly” applies to our country; while 71% say so for the statement “elected officials care what ordinary people think.”
However, when it comes to the statement “most politicians are corrupt,” 56% say that it characterizes our situation well, compared to the 43% who disagree. Alarmingly, 60% believe that “no matter who wins an election, things do not change very much,” with only 39% saying otherwise.
As such, the following challenges for political reforms must be thought of. First, the COMELEC should be at the forefront of regulating and safeguarding the electoral battle. In this respect, the Resolution No. 10528 should be strictly implemented. Second, the most commonsensical action is to continue the use of automated polling system. The Vote Counting Machines are said to be the safest and most efficient machines used in the country’s electoral history. If the results are protected and transmitted completely and speedily, electoral integrity could be assured.
Third, aside from automation the political reforms to improve the quality and quantity of political mobilization and socialization could be enhanced through a reformed party system. Leadership should be based on platform and programs and not merely on personalities and populist rhetoric.
Fourth, civil society organizations that espouse honesty, transparency and accountability of the electoral process should work together and serve as change agents to goad the political system toward reform.
Fifth, a genuine call for the electorate to be judicious and conscientious should be reiterated. In as much as there is a lurking animosity about elections and its impact on society, the democratic way forward is to unceasingly combat this mentality and uphold our citizenship. And while reforming the electoral system and the political system in general could be done “one step at a time,” the first necessary step is to vote for good leaders!
This article was originally published in BusinessWorld.