Friday, March 13, 2009


Two days ago, Jonah Goldberg, director of National Campaign for Fair Elections of the Washington, D.C.-based Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, testified before the US Senate Committee on Rules and Administration in regard to the problems besetting US elections. He drew largely from the experiences and observations of hundreds of legal volunteers across the US who participated in the program called Election Protection - headed by the Lawyers Committee and launched in 2001 and every US elections thereafter to assist voters in the voting process. I was fortunate to join this program during the last US presidential election.

Based on the information culled by Goldberg's group, the major problem that crops up every election in the US, including the one in November of last year, is voter registration. According to Goldberg, the voter registration system in the US is antiquated and is the major cause of voter disenfranchisement and delays in polling places. A lot of voters were not able to cast their votes because their names were missing from voters registration lists, and poll workers were forced to sift throught their records on election day to find these missing names that caused much of the long lines during the last election, but to no avail.

Another problem that was encountered, which accounts for one-tenth of the recorded problems, had to do with breakdown of voting machines. Servers in other polling places have crashed, machines malfunctioned or broke down, and there were no available on-site technical support to immediately address these problems.

This should be a stark warning to us as we gear toward the automation of our elections in 2010. Sen. Francis "Chiz" Escudero was not merely making political sound bites when he said that he has no problems with poll automation, but that we should see to it that we have a reliable registration of voters. In fact, even before R.A. 9369 - our election automation law that was passed in 2007 - voter registration has always been problematic. Aside from voters' names missing from the rolls, there are double or even multiple registrants who are able to vote several times in different polling precincts, and the specter of dead voters rising from the graveyards to cast their votes.

COMELEC should also look into the very real problem of voting machines shutting or breaking down on election day. This will become especially true in far flung areas where there are no technology infrastructures in place. If in the US - where most cities are unquestionably technologically fitted - they are still not immune from computer glitches, what more in our country where most of our localities are still strangers to modern technology?

2010 should be a very lucrative year for IT people who will surely be in high demand in the coming computerized elections, for the automation law itself requires the Board of Election Inspectors to be staffed by a trained computer specialist so that a technician will be handy onsite should problems occur, as i'm sure they will. It is only hoped that we have enough people, not to mention the funds, to fill this need.

Finally, I agree with legislators who are calling for the passage of a companion law to the recently passed poll automation budget. As R.A. 9369 now stands, it has provisions that seem to conflict with an automated election. Curiously, it still provides for manual counting of votes by retaining the system in past elections, as provided in the Omnibus Election Code, while at the same time it authorizes the COMELEC to conduct computerized elections which will automate not only the voting but the counting as well. How will they reconcile these conflicting provisions?

Likewise, there is nothing in the automation law that states the basis for a manual counting or recount. If you will recall, the recent senatorial race in Minnesota between Saturday Night Live comedian Al Franken of the Democrats and Norm Coleman of the Republicans ended in a hand recount when the results of the computerized count turned inconclusive, several absentee votes were alleged to have been improperly excluded, and votes were not properly cast. The Minnesota experience serves as an object lesson in voting problems associated with automated voting and counting.

COMELEC is clearly in favor of using the Optical Mark Reader (OMR) system of voting machines, which counts and records votes by reading ovals opposite candidates' names that have been shaded by voters to indicate their votes. The Minnesota experience shows that voters can get lost following instructions as several ballots unrecognized by the OMR machines turned out to be improperly accomplished, such as crossing or checking the ovals instead of shading them or shading them incorrectly. Take note, these are middle class natural-born English speaking voters we are talking about.

I favor an automated election because it is fast, easy, convenient and less prone to cheating. But Congress and the COMELEC should see to it all the safeguards are put in place - and promptly at that as the 2010 elections are fast approaching - to ensure what we have always been dreaming of as a clean, honest and fair election. Let us not automate for the sake of automaking. If we can't do it come 2010 because of our unpreparedness, let's take it easy and wait for the succeeding elections because lack of preparation spawns the opposite of the benefits in an automated election. An ill-prepared automated election is something election fraudsters are only too happy to have.


  1. I do not believe that making our elections automated will change much. The culture of cheating and corruption is embedded in our very fibre.It will only make the cheaters find more creative ways to cheat an otherwise clean election. Here in Toronto , election is very simple and so is the election computerized system they are using.But no one dares to tamper with it. People here believe that cheating the election is the lowest thing you can do to yourself and to your country. Until we have reached a sense of nationalism that makes us respect our democracy, no amount of technological advances will help.

  2. Hi anonymous,

    I agree that no amount of automation can eradicate electoral fraud, but it's high time that we do away with our antiquated voting and counting system where results come out only after weeks or even months of tedious counting and canvassing.

    For us to automate, however, we must of course be PREPARED for the task, otherwise we will only be fueling more cheating to our already fraud laden elections.

  3. Automation maybe one of the significant move the government could ever take for faster election counting and I think it will remove all other advantages available to a well-financed political campaign to make a move to cheat because the ability to determine the winners is maybe just within an hour or by the end of the day..Anyway,for this upcoming election,hoped for a clean and honest election.