No-el, no-proc and no-win

LEGALLY, FAILURE OF ELECTIONS (NO-EL) IS different from failure of proclamation (no-proc). If no election is actually held on the scheduled date because of, say, an “Ondoy”-type flood, there is no-el. On the other hand, if an election takes place but no winner is proclaimed due to, say, incomplete election returns, there is no-proc.

No-win scenarios. In both instances, no winner (no-win) emerges. Should no-win happen in the 2010 presidential race, who will run the country? Since President Macapagal-Arroyo’s constitutional successors—Vice President Noli de Castro, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Speaker Prospero Nograles in that order—will, like her, end their terms of office on June 30, 2010, President Macapagal-Arroyo could extend her stay by invoking the legal principle of “holdover.”

I discussed this chilling scenario on May 31 and June 7 and will not repeat it now. Neither will I reiterate old solutions (like electing a new Senate head whose term does not end in 2010). My present purpose is to analyze briefly how a no-win can occur and how it can be prevented.

A no-el, no-proc and no-win can happen, among others, under any (or a combination) of the following: (1) the automated machines (called PCOS) fail; (2) they are stolen, disabled or burned; (3) the ballots are erroneously printed; (4) the PCOS and/or ballots are misdelivered; (5) the election results are not transmitted properly; and (6) massive disenfranchisement due to long queues.

If these happen in only a few municipalities, the no-wins would be localized and easy to contain. But if they occur in too many places and involve more ballots than the margin of the leading presidential candidate over the next, no one would be proclaimed winner, thereby justifying a holdover.

Perhaps the most feared of these scenarios is the first: the PCOS fail due to technical glitches. Note, however, that the Supreme Court has assured us that “failure of elections consequent to voting machine failure would, in fine, be a very remote possibility.” (Roque vs Comelec, Sept. 10, 2009)

Manual count. Why? During their visit at my home last week, Commissioner Rene V. Sarmiento, Comelec IT Consultants Renato B. Garcia and Antonio Villasor, and lawyer Albert Rodriguez (the Comelec team) explained that, in case of an irremediable machine failure, the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) would revert to a manual count. Relevantly, I cautioned the team to make sure that the Commission on Elections issues easy-to-understand rules on how to manually count automated ballots.

According to the Comelec team, the solution for the second no-win possibility (PCOS are stolen, etc.) is the same as the first, a reversion to manual count. But if the problem is limited in scope, the initial remedy is to use one of the 2,000 reserve machines to be deployed in problem-prone areas.

To prevent the third scenario (wrong ballot printing), the Comelec will—by mid-December—post on the website the facsimile of the ballots for each of the 1,630 municipalities. Should there be any errors, candidates can call Comelec’s attention before the Jan. 9 printing deadline.

To ensure the correct delivery of the PCOS and the printed ballots to the correct precincts (fourth problem), the Comelec team advised me that all the machines and the ballots will bear bar codes that can be read by a global positioning system (GPS), similar to those used by Fedex, Air 21 or UPS. I checked this with Bert Lina, local boss of Fedex and Air 21. He told me that his firm’s use of GPS has resulted in almost 100-percent deliveries of commercial packages. With the correct use of GPS, the Comelec can also perfect its deliveries.

The Comelec team said the fifth problem (transmission) could be solved with the use of the reserve machines. At worse, the BEI can bring the machines and the ballots to the municipal voting center where the transmission could be done.

The Comelec team added that the poll body asked the Ateneo School of Government to help solve the sixth problem (long queues). Garcia explained that it takes only six seconds for the PCOS to accept and read each ballot. The queues would be in the voting booths. But this is nothing new. The lines are even longer in the manual system because voters need more time to write the candidates’ names. In the automated system, they simply shade the ovals opposite the names.

Also, consecutive numbers will be assigned to the candidates to make them easy to locate on the ballot, especially for the party-list that would probably consist of about 200 candidates. Instead of remembering names, voters will simply look for the numbers corresponding to their choices.

Best solution. Ultimately, the best and most practical way to overcome no-win scenarios is an overwhelming vote in favor of the winning presidential bet. If the margin of victory is huge, the glitches in some municipalities, or even provinces, will not matter.

Thus, if the leading candidate’s overall margin over the nearest rival is, say 5 million votes, glitches involving, say, one million votes will not result in a no-proc for the presidential race. Even if all the one million votes were credited to the nearest rival, the leading candidate would surely still be entitled to a proclamation.

May 10, 2010 will usher in our first nationwide automated election. Some glitches, errors and inconveniences, there will be. Our civic duty I think is to help the Comelec solve them early, and prevent them from mutating into no-el, no-proc and no-win.

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