Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social development)
Philippine Star, 22 May 2013


The country just underwent an exercise in democracy through the ballot with the midterm national elections in which half of the Senate members, all members of Congress and all local elective officials of provinces, municipalities and cities were chosen by the people.

The elections were peaceful and were conducted in an efficient manner. There were some areas where the outcomes were close and therefore tense. There were shortcomings expressed about how some candidates had bought their way through. There were local places where the brute party machine appeared dominant in determining outcomes.

All these, however, were not anywhere near as close to the problems encountered in the electoral process of the past. In the past, great uncertainty reigned over extended periods before results were announced, thus weakening their credibility. The computerization of the voting process has reduced many steps and has also obliterated time wasting practices, including ways to cheat.

The time it took to cast ballots, to counting the votes, and finally, to adding up all the votes into a final tally have been shortened immensely. There are still many rough edges to fix. We cannot change the political culture involving the election of our leaders, which will come with better education of the electorate and further economic development.

We have succeeded in fixing the mechanics of the election. This by itself is a great achievement given the immense problems that a slow and tedious manual processing of elections have brought on us before. The Commission on Elections, its deputized workers and institutions, and its Chairman, Sixto Brillantes, merit the nation’s gratitude.

“Electoral computerization.” The computerization of election processes has been delayed for too long but is now with us. Political incumbents were against its adoption for years. There were many reasons for this that I need not elaborate on. Reforms are always difficult to implement when their potential results threaten the position of the incumbents.
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It took the determined pressure of civil society in the country and a long history of unpopular outcomes in electoral contests for the government to adopt the computerized electoral system.

Computerization forced a systemic change in the voting and canvassing process. It was made more simple and transparent. It centrally involved the adoption of an electoral machine which is a secure set of computer commands that would recognize votes, tally them, and then transmit them electronically to the canvassing centers. This assured that the integrity of the vote is preserved within this new system. The debate on the “source code” led to it being revealed to the interested electoral watchdogs.

In modern democracies, once the precincts close, the voting machines would have also been finished with the count. The voting machines serve also as counting machines, tabulating the votes registered as they are read into a precinct data base. Ideally, it is possible to know the election results within the hour or two of precinct closing.

In the US, for instance, a country so large geographically that it stretches across several time zones, an election contest for the presidency would be known within one day, if it is not a tight contest. But all local (state) election results are known within hours of the closing of precincts.

As we gain confidence and track record, it is possible for us to know the winners even much sooner than it took in this election. However, we have achieved a lot this time.

“Outcomes at the precinct and individual level.” There is still a highly partisan discussion of last week’s electoral exercise. There may be local cases of deviation from expected practice. It is well to emphasize that the election was conducted nationwide in a generally peaceful environment.

One such testimony is the May 15, 2013 column of Ana Marie Pamintuan in The Star, who described her personal experience at how quick her visit to the polls was and how much less crowded were the polling places. My own experience is a testimony to this. I voted in the late afternoon, and the process was a complete breeze.

When voters can finish their civic task without much delay, the turnover of voters is faster and the precincts will not be overcrowded. Congestion of the polling booths slows down the voting and causes delays and inefficiencies.

There were some problems at the precinct, like some voters not finding their names, but in general, most were able to vote and in relatively record time.

“The nation as winner.” With the computerization of the election system, the nation is the big winner. Productivity of everyone involved in the election process increases.

Winners know that they have won and that they are not put in great suspense about the status of their victories. Losers also know that they have lost. They can then turn to their alternative endeavors and move on.

Public officials who acted as watchers are able to finish their duties faster. The same is true for those who assisted and kept the faith with their candidates, whether they won or lost.

The result is a gain in productivity for the nation. In the past, a lot of time was wasted in waiting for the actual results of electoral contests. This led to great anxiety, stresses on the use of the resources of police and law enforcement officers, the courts, and institutions. When accusations and counter-accusations of malfeasance in the conduct of elections take place, great uncertainties are generated. And the nation goes about its work burdened by lack of trust and credibility of the outcomes.

“A quick outcome is good for the economy.” The gains in productivity can translate into gains for the economy. In the first place, when electoral results are known quickly, businessmen and other decision-makers, including foreign investors, can read the outcomes of a divided election much more clearly by interpreting the results. The confidence level on the country’s political and economic institutions is reinforced.

With the results known quickly, the political, economic and social programs become better defined. In this election, the results identify with the administration. Thus, they reinforce the administration’s program of government.

Since the new Senate and Congress will now be filled with newly elected leaders that tilt the balance in favor of the administration, it can easily be concluded that programs sponsored by the government will have easier sailing.