Tuesday, May 14, 2013
It may be true that the the 2013 general elections here in Lianga and all over the country have become largely automated and that the old-style manual balloting and canvassing have gone the way of the dinosaurs yet it did not, of course, automatically mean that the actual voting process would immediately become (at least at this time) fast and free of the irritating errors, delays and glitches that everyone hoped by now would be mostly eliminated by modern technology and months of thorough planning and preparation by election officials. In fact, we had to stand and sweat in line for almost two hours for our chance to vote but thankfully in the end the whole thing went smoothly. This was fortunate for us in view of the many problems regarding voting procedures and malfunctioning PCOS (Precinct Count Optical Scan) machines in many other areas all over the country being reported in the national news media.
In our own clustered polling precinct, the delays have less to do with the machine itself but the fact that many voters especially the elderly and first-timers have yet to familiarize themselves and become adept at using the new specialized ballots and the new voting procedures. This is after all only the second time since 2010 that the automated voting system was used.
There was, however, one thing that the many voters and would-be voters I talked to agreed upon while we all waited in line to cast our ballots. First, there must be a way to decongest the individual voting precincts by either reducing the number of potential voters per precinct or by installing more than one PCOS machine in each of them. A typical clustered precinct has to service at least 1000 registered voters and even with the polling places opened for most of election day, a high turnout can lead to inevitable bottlenecks and long queues.
The government cannot expect its voting citizens to endure hours of standing in long lines exposed to the vagaries of the weather (whether it be the searing heat of the summer sun or the wet and chill of a sudden summer rain) just so that they can exercise what is a basic and fundamental right in a democratic society. It behooves election officials and the government to ensure that all voters be able to finish his or her duty in the fastest and most efficient manner and with the least amount of delay, confusion and aggravation.
There are, of course, many Filipinos here in Lianga and all over the country who still feel very uncomfortable with the determined push oby the Commission on Elections and the government for greater automation in Philippine electoral exercises and many who still harbor deep suspicions about the credibility and reliability of the PCOS machines and the computerized canvassing procedures being presently used. These still lingering doubts are based undoubtedly on the rather checkered history of the existing automated ballot casting and counting system which happens to be essentially the same setup used in the 2010 general elections. If we all remember, the COMELEC and the then administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo came under intense fire for the many equipment malfunctions and data transmission foul-ups that led to widespread allegations of widespread vote fraud and vote rigging.
Personally I have always been in favor of anything that modernizes and streamlines the voting process yet at the same time insures the sanctity of the ballot. The country cannot afford to stubbornly keep on using the traditional manual balloting and canvassing procedures that have been proven time and time again to be not only cumbersome, time-consuming and inefficient but more importantly susceptible to cheating and unscrupulous manipulation by corrupt government officials, politicians and their cohorts and accomplices.
The Commission on Elections and the government's duty is, therefore, in my view, clear. That is to upgrade, refine and fine-tune the automated voting system in current use and make sure that it will result in future elections that are not only quick and efficient but also accurate, secure and credible.
Yesterday, when I had completed filling up my ballot and had personally fed it into the PCOS machine and then was then rewarded with a message on its LCD screen that my vote had been successfully counted and recorded,, I took the briefest of moments to reflect on the many past elections I had participated in the past and how the voting process had evolved and changed in just the past few years. Times have indeed changed and may still continue to change.
Like, I am sure, most of the other voters in that room with me, I tossed off a prayer and mentally voiced the hope that my vote and the votes of the so many others that have really sacrificed their time, stood in line for hours and braved the searing heat and humidity of summer would really matter in the long run and that they would be really seen for what they are - an expression of our collective hope for a much better and brighter future for Lianga and the country and as an affirmation of our abiding belief and trust in the democratic ideals that all freedom loving peoples so earnestly want to hold themselves up to and live by yet, in most cases and time and time again, often fall short of the mark.