When we argued against COMELEC-Smartmatic-TIM’s automated election system before the Supreme Court last year, we started our arguments by highlighting logistical nightmares that will surely mar an untested automated system. We likened this year’s automated system to the Automated Teller Machines. We said that unlike COMELEC’s overnight implementation of a nationwide Automated Election System (AES), commercial banks did not lay out their ATM’s overnight. Some of them took 18 long years to lay them out. And yet, the scope of the bank’s networks still dwarfed that of the COMELEC’s PCOS. We highlighted that the banks took very long to lay out their ATM’s because of the accepted reality that all untested systems are bound to suffer from computer glitches. Unless you try out the system in a limited scope, the systems operator would not know what these glitches are and what the corresponding remedies should be.
We then quoted Senator Richard Gordon who, in parrying various concerns against the AES, said that all the Senators’ concerns should be noted, but meanwhile, the body should approve the law so that “pilot testing could proceed”. It was clearly the intention of Congress to follow the footsteps of the banks in implementing their ATM’s: a limited pilot before full nationwide automation.
We then argued that outside of the dire consequences of not complying with what we said was a “condition precedent” for the holding of a full blown nationwide election system, other logistical nightmares would surely mar this year’s automated election. For instance, we cited the reclustering of 250,000 precincts with an average of 250-300 voters per precinct into only 76,000 precincts consisting of at least 1000 voters. We said that there would be massive disenfranchisement because one, voters would not know where to vote since only one in four will vote in same precinct that he has habitually voted; and two, the sheer time it would take for each voter to fill up and cast the automated ballot. Our objection then was that while voting hours were indeed extended to 11 hours, there was no time motion study undertaken to determine exactly how much time it would take 1000 voters to fill out and cast their ballots. Later studies would conclude that only about half of all registered voters could vote during the eleven hour period.
There were also very important constitutional issues that we raised. There is the cherished principle of secrecy of voting. We asked how this secrecy could be implemented given the sheer length of the ballot and the fact that first time voters would inevitably have to ask assistance in feeding their ballot into the PCOS machines. Further, we cited a decision of the German Constitutional Court that declared that an AES that did not enable the voters to verify how their voters were actually counted, without the intervention of a highly trained specialist, is unconstitutional. We then concluded that for these reasons, we might be headed into our first automated failure of elections.
Fortunately, the worse did not happen. But did the experience prove critics of the Smartmatic AES completely false? Well, perhaps not. For while we as a nation were elated that results were known even “before we could say Garci “, the reality is that the President Elect himself, Noynoy Aquino, experienced first hand what the Concerned Citizens Movement warned against. First, there were the incredible delays in voting due to our single most major reclustering of precincts. Then there were PCOS machines that did not work and replacements that took hours to arrive. Until now, there are five million votes that still have to be canvassed due to transmission problems. The glitches in fact were so prevalent that by midday, of Election Day, the nation was rightfully alarmed about the possibility of failure of elections.
In hindsight, failure was averted because of the timely intervention of our public school teachers and the media. In precincts where the PCOS machines did not work and a replacement was not immediately forthcoming, the teachers proceeded with the voting sans the machines anticipating that a replacement would arrive by end of the polling day. Media, on the other hand, played the role of a supportive cheerleader exhorting the electorate to be patient as at stake is the future of democracy in the country. It helped too that Noynoy Aquino’s win was by a landslide since his closest opponent could no longer complaint about possible cheating. Ultimately, it is perhaps the dire prospect of GMA forever, should the elections fail, that prompted the electorate to withstand the torturous conditions of voting that took an average of two and a half hours when in the past, it took only twenty minutes.
The fact that results were known almost instantly bolsters CCM’s contention that we should automate only the canvassing and transmission of our electoral exercise. We argued then, as we still do now, that voting, which remained manual, and counting, in line with the mantra of public counting, should remain manual. The fact that voting took four hours longer than manual voting compensated for the speed by which results were counted by the machine. Had it been a tightly fought race, it would have been difficult for the losers to concede defeat since no one saw how the counting of votes was done.
But fair is fair. The elections, despite our worse apprehensions, did not fail. Credit should be given to both the COMELEC and Smartmatic-TIM for this triumph of democracy. As we have repeatedly stated, we would be more than happy if history were to prove us wrong. And by God: we’re absolutely thrilled#30#