Thursday, June 6, 2013

E-voting Redux: The Philippines and its second automated polls

A voter in Catarman scans her ballot on the voting machine.
The Philippines continues to leapfrog into the future of democracy as it successfully held its second nationwide automated elections. The country also appears headed to become the leading reference country for e-voting, with international observers flocking to the island nation to benchmark the elections. 

The success and the popular acclaim for the recent elections strongly indicate that e-voting is the wave of the future in the Asian nation. The Filipino public, after getting a taste of automation’s many benefits in 2010, have gotten used to the speed, accuracy and transparency that e-voting brings and cannot be reasonably expected to relinquish it.  

As a matter of fact, a few hours after the polls opened, netizens poured their sentiments on Twitter, gushing about the painless voting experience. Some users reported taking less than five minutes to shade ballots and cast their votes.

Even more impressive to the public was the fact that exactly a week after the polls closed, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has already proclaimed 99.99% of the 18,000 elective positions including 12 senators, 229 district members of the House of Representatives, 80 provincial governors, 80 provincial vice governors, 766 members of the provincial  legislature, 138 city mayors, 138 city vice mayors, 1,532 members of the city council, 1,496 municipal mayors, 1,496 municipal vice mayors, and 11,972 members of the municipal council.

Anyone who has a passing interest in Philippines’ election history, -where proclamations have been known to take as long as several months- would instantly know this to be quite an astounding feat.

As in 2010, the backbone of the recent elections was the Precinct Count Optical Scanner (PCOS), a machine that has gained great popularity among Filipinos. The introduction of this machine has drastically cut voting time -voters no longer write out candidate names but merely shade them-.  Equally important, Filipinos seems very reassured that their votes are still committed to paper -the ballot being an incontrovertible evidence of their choice-.

Automated elections have also made life easier for the teachers who serve as Board of Elections Inspectors (BEI). Before automation, BEI's were known to stay in the precincts well into the following morning manually counting the votes. Aside from the long hours, the BEI's were also often put in harm’s way since the longer they stayed in the precinct, the more exposed they were to election-related violence that threatened to break out any time.

Automation changed all that. BEI's were done with their work much sooner than in previous elections -some even packing for home an hour after polls closed-.

But to be sure, automation is not without its detractors, those that bible-thump a gospel of gloom and doom. Yet despite all the noise they have created, Filipinos have wised up and realized that e-voting was that one thing that brought political stability to the country and the resultant economic boom.