Today, the Philippines is literally hanging on the edge of disaster. Today, May 10, 2010 is election day in the Philippines. The Presidency, Vice Presidency, Senate, Congress, Provincial Government Offices and Local Government Offices are all up for grabs today, here in the Philippines. Every elected office in the Country, except for Barangay level positions are up for election today.
In the past, except for one previous election in the ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao), Philippine Elections have always been on paper ballots, and were hand counted. The process took weeks to complete, and you never really knew who the winner was until weeks had passed.
This year, for the first time on a nationwide scale, vote tabulating is being done electronically. The actual voting is still done on paper, a “bubble” is filled in next to the Candidate’s name whom you wish to vote for, then the ballot is run through what is called a Smartmatic PCOS machine, which records the filled in bubble votes on the ballot and tabulates the votes. Under the new system, it is said that results of the election can be expected within about 2 days or so.
That’s 2 days if everything proceeds as planned. However, it appears that the situation is almost chaos with this new voting method. Over the past months, I have been fairly confident that the voting would proceed smoothly, and while there may be a few glitches here and there, overall the election would be pretty successful, mechanics-wise. However, in recent days, a lot has happened to show that the machines may not be the right way to go, or at least that preparations have been lacking.
The first big sign started a couple of weeks ago when overseas voting was conducted for Filipinos in Hong Kong. Two voting machines failed in Hong Kong. I do not recall how many machines there were total there, but it was not a large number. As I recall, it was less than 20 machines total, and two of the machines failed. So, this means that something like 10% of the machines in use did not work properly. Can you imagine if 10% of the voting machines around the entire Philippines do not work properly?
The next big problem on the machines occurred last week. A practice run with the machines was conducted in Manila last week, and the entire system failed dismally. They discovered that the Compact Flash cards that give the machines instructions on how to tally the votes were programmed incorrectly. Each machine has a different programming on the Compact Flash card, because this is where the candidate’s names and such are stored. So, each area has different candidates, and thus each machine has different information programmed into it. For example, the Mayor, City Council and such is different in every City. For offices that are nationwide, like President, Vice President and Senators the results were OK, but for all local offices the results were wrong. In fact, if you voted for Mr. Smith, the tally was given to a different candidate, according to the programming on the machines! Thus, even if Candidate Smith got 70% of the votes, he was the loser, because the votes shifted to Candidate Jones, or whoever. Oh my!
So, on Tuesday and Wednesday last week, the Comelec (Philippine Commission on Elections) announced that they had to recall the Compact Flash Cards from every PCOS machine in the Philippines (about 80,000 machines in all) and every one of those cards had to be re-programmed. All of this had to happen in time to get the cards back to the polling places by election time on Monday. In some far flung regions of the Philippines, this logistical task was virtually impossible. There are remote parts of the country that cannot be reached without days of travel.
Last week, when it was announced that all Compact Flash Cards must be re-programmed, a number of candidates and others (including President Arroyo’s Elections Attorney) called for the Elections to be postponed by a month or so, so that the machine problems can be addressed fully. Other parts of Philippine society was in an uproar over the possibility of postponing the elections.
Part of the problem, and the reason I am saying that the Philippines is hovering on the brink of disaster today is because a large percentage of Philippine Society despises the current President. For years, much of society has been saying that the current President plans to become a dictator and will not relinquish power at the end of her term. There has been constant speculation for years now that elections will not happen, and democracy will fail in the Philippines. I personally do not think that the President ever planned this, and she has always categorically denied such a plot. However, any postponement in the elections will only embolden these critics and make them say “see, I told you so” and, in my belief, such an event could lead to violent protests in the streets of the Philippines.
The Comelec should have been better prepared. They should have been testing these machines a year ago, not a week ago. What is the plan if there are brownouts? Brownouts are a regular part of life now, will the machines still work? There are battery backups, but will the data become corrupted or lost when power goes down? There are so many questions about these machines. Some of the poll workers also say that they don’t even know how to use the machines. What happens then?
Today will be a historic day in the Philippines, no doubt about that. If things go smoothly and the machines work properly it will be historic in that a new batch of elected officials will be chosen, and for the first time it will be done partly by electronic methods. If the machines fail, if elections fail, or something like that, well it will be historic in a more negative sense. Whatever happens, I hope that the people of the Philippines can maintain peace and order, roll with the punches, and make it through the day without violence or disruption of society.
There will be glitches today, I have no doubt. I think that even the most fervent supporter of the new voting system would agree that glitches will occur. It will be how the people deal with the glitches, and how serious the glitches are that will determine the success of the elections, and the satisfaction of the Filipino people.
We will all be watching to see what happens. Good luck, Philippines. Choose wisely.