“Let us continue to uphold our democracy in this new government.”
May 9th, election day was my first time as a senior citizen and the sixth automated election that I voted in. I recently transferred voting precincts to where my permanent residence is and, with more than 54 million voters, fulfilled my duty as a citizen of the Philippines. Together with my family, we trooped to our assigned voting center in the first hours — but the queue was already out on the streets. There were many volunteers helping the voters, especially seniors like me. I was in and out in just over 40 minutes.
I monitored the TV news coverage of election happenings and as usual, they followed the voting of the presidential candidates in their respective precincts and every bit of negative incident particularly the glitches of the vote counting machines (VCM). Political analysts were interviewed and gave their insights to put more objectivity and sobriety to the negative news reports which were giving the impression that all the VCM malfunctions were compromising the integrity of the elections.
Let’s do some fast fact-checking of these VCM incidents. There are allegations that more VCMs had malfunctioned in this election than in previous automated elections. According to COMELEC reports, in the 2019 mid-term elections, 2.64% VCMs were replaced in various voting clustered precincts which is much higher than this election that counted only 0.86%. To put a numbers perspective on this, out of 106,174 VCMs deployed all over the country, only 200 were reported to have problems. Unfortunate but expected is the media’s focus on the 0.18% that had technical and also user issues.
Transmission was record breaking compared to all the automated elections with 98% of election returns transmitted by 2 pm of May 10 or just 31 hours after polls closed. Actually, even by late evening, a few hours after data from the transparency servers started its tally, the winners in the national positions were already clear.
But even this feat which critics used to hit for delays and efficiency issues was met with suspicion by some for being “too fast” instead of commending the Commission on Elections for effectively addressing the transmission problems of the past with more robust technology. Being a proponent of accelerating the development of the country’s digital infrastructure and digital transformation of government, the speed of transmission and availability of data from the transparency servers was very impressive.
I remember how political parties had to organize their own quick count operations to run parallel tallies. Now this is unnecessary because the best audit of the automated election system is the PPCRV’s (Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting) manual audit of the election returns (ER). As in the past automated elections, PPCRV will manually check each ER with the transmitted results of the VCMs through its army of young volunteers.
As of May 12, PPCRV already encoded 16,820 ERs and has so far resulted in a 100 percent match. As of this writing the latest report is that as of mid-morning of May 14, 48.31 percent of total ERs or 52,066 out of 107,785 of the total number of precincts have been received. Since 2010 when the COMELEC started using the AES as mandated by law, the accuracy rate has been at 99.99%.
There are also allegations that there were 1,800 defective VCMs countering COMELEC’s figures of only 200. This is again erroneous, because this actually represented 1,800 technical support or troubleshooting assistance given to solve rather simple user related issues like paper jams, switching on the VCM, and other things that did not necessarily need VCM or SD Card replacement.
Another issue raised is that millions of voters had to wait for hours because of the delays caused by VCM malfunctions and the delayed replacement which the COMELEC should have prepared for. It’s true that replacement was slower, and this was explained by the lower number of contingency VCMs which this year was only 1,000 for the 33,000 polling places compared to 10,000 in 2019. COMELEC was able to lease only 11,000 of the 25,000 new machines that had been planned for procurement because of the huge increase in voters but the global shortage of electronic components because of supply chain disruptions caused by COVID 19 thwarted these plans.
The election results, though still unofficial and partial, vindicated the much-maligned survey firms that have again proved the soundness of their scientific methods of conducting polls. Nationwide surveys on the automated elections have also reflected the people’s confidence and overwhelming trust of our automated democratic elections.
For boomers like me who have seen the extensive cheating, vote buying, harassment, and the rule of guns goons and gold during the dark era of manual elections, the legislation of automated elections reversed what was becoming a dangerous erosion of trust in our democratic process.
Let us continue to uphold our democracy in this new government.