Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The self-interest problem: Why some people want a return to flawed manual elections

Image: http://www.liberadio.com

Electronic voting is the future of democracy. An ever-increasing number of countries around the world like Belgium, the US, Venezuela, Mongolia and the Philippines have seen their democratic institutions grow even stronger after abandoning the flawed manual elections and started benefiting from voting’s fast, accurate, and transparent results.

Still, more countries are either already conducting pilot tests or preparing enabling laws for a shift to e-voting.

With all the clear advantages of automating the elections, it does boggle the mind why anyone would still want to return to slow and fraud-ridden manual elections. Yet perhaps the key to understanding the puzzle lies in the very success of e-voting.

Automated elections make such an almost perfect job of eliminating fraud that the people who have made great fortunes rigging elections have suddenly been left holding empty bags, and very much upset.

In the Philippines, poll operators had, for decades, been making a living off politicians  employing the infamous “dagdag-bawas” (add-subtract) scheme, where the highest bidder can be made to win by addition of votes to his total and where the hapless opponent can be made to lose by shaving votes off his or her total.

In 2010, however, these fraudsters have been shoved out from the money train when the Philippines started automating its elections. They were out of jobs overnight. And they are not taking this sitting down.

Yet the legally-instituted e-voting system is not only facing attacks from these disenfranchised poll operators but also from a group headed by a disgruntled ex-commissioner of the poll body. This ex-official, reliable sources confirm, has long been trying to sell his own version of an election system. Unfortunately for this ex-official, his system is part-automated and part-manual, a hybrid that is expressly forbidden in the Election Automation Law of the Philippines.

This does not, however, deter this ex-official in pushing for his selfish agenda, and takes every chance he gets to cast doubts on the reliability and credibility of e-voting.

Many Filipino voters are crying foul over these selfish agenda threatening to undo the gains brought about by election automation. After all, automation brought political stability to the country, a development which directly caused investor confidence to soar at all-time high, and had also led to a surge in foreign and local investments. 

It was also no coincidence that Fitch and Standard & Poor’s have found it fit to upgrade the Philippines to investment grade. It was still less of a coincidence that the country’s economy grew 7.8%, making it the fastest expanding economy in Southeast Asia, even outstripping China’s 7.7% growth.

The stabilizing effects of e-voting in any country cannot be dismissed. It is up to concerned voters to be vigilant so as to ensure that their democracy is not put at the mercy of self-interests.