Imponderable, unthinkable and unimaginable

IT WAS CLEAR TO ME ALL THIS TIME THAT glitches and hitches in the automated election system would arise here and there, in various parts of the country to the extent of about 20 percent of all the ballots cast on Election Day. But I never imagined a nationwide failure of election (no-el). Given, however, the logistical nightmare induced by the PCOS machines’ complete misreading of the votes during the test runs last Monday, I am now ready to believe the chilling scenarios painted by Comelec’s worst critics.

Gross negligence. It is imponderable, unthinkable and unimaginable how Comelec and Smartmatic could have overlooked the correct calibration of the CompactFlash (CF) cards of the machines. These CF cards are commonplace; they are used in toys, cameras, cell phones and home computers. Even my grade school grandchildren know them.
Former Comelec Chairman Christian Monsod characterized the poll body’s sin as “incompetence.” I think it was more of gross negligence or wanton carelessness. Incompetence implies lack of knowledge; Comelec and Smartmatic knew or should have known such basic information. However, possessing such knowledge but miserably failing to use it properly is negligence or carelessness of the worst kind.

But finger-pointing and cuss words we must set aside for the moment. This is hardly the time for the blame game. This is the time to make the best out of a very bad situation. Let us be ready to cope with the imponderable and the unthinkable that are yet to come. As the May 6 Inquirer editorial advised, let us brace for the oncoming storm.

Massive disenfranchisement. One major storm would be disenfranchisement, more massive and widespread than I had earlier thought. To minimize this, voters must already know at this time their precinct number and location. Several weeks ago, our barangay captain, Nena Rosales, informed my wife and me (and I suppose the other barangay members too) of our precincts.

Likewise, a sample of the official ballot was mailed to us. This has given us time to discuss the candidates’ worthiness. If you do not yet know your precinct, log on immediately at www.comelec.gov.ph and click “precinct finder.” Tomorrow, go to the polling centers early (they open at 7 a.m. and close at 6 p.m.) as there would surely be long lines because as many as 1,000 voters would be using the same PCOS machine in the clustered precincts.

Despite our readiness to vote, there are many imponderables why disenfranchisement could happen, especially in remote areas. The PCOS machines may not function; or the new CF cards may not have been installed; or the ballots may not have been received at the precincts. The names of some candidates may have been misprinted; or the ovals misaligned; or the ballots spoiled by dirt, perspiration, crumpling or careless handling; or the filled ballots rejected by the machines; or PCOS wrongly calibrated.

Should massive disenfranchisement happen, the polling firms, like SWS and Pulse Asia, may not be able to conduct accurate exit polls because the sampling process would be compromised and would not produce accurate results.

Comelec printed manual forms only for 30 percent of the electorate. Given the CF card imbroglio, Comelec should have printed forms for all the precincts, as a contingency measure. Of course, even if manual forms are available, confusion can still ensue because the Boards of Election Inspectors (BEI) have not been trained to use them. The processes and rules for manually counting automated ballots are different from those for manually counting the old-style generic manual ballots.

PPCRV-KBP tandem. Another imponderable is the possible failure of the PCOS to tally the ballots properly and to transmit the tally electronically. Since the tallying and transmission would be done after the polls close at 6 p.m., voters should stay near the polling places to be sure that these processes are done properly.

Relevantly, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), in tandem with the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) and the major networks, will conduct a 100-percent parallel tally of the election returns retrieved from the precincts and transmitted by alternative electronic means to the PPCRV center in Manila. This would assure a countercheck for the official Comelec electronic count.

A third major imponderable would be chaos, even violence, at the polls, as a result of glitches, delays and frayed nerves arising from inadequate teacher training and voter education. The BEIs should be patient in addressing citizen complaints. And when push comes to shove, the role of the Philippine National Police would be critical. Fortunately, PNP chief Jesus Verzosa has given firm assurance that the police would be non-partisan and would perform their functions without fear or favor.

The most unthinkable scenario is a total failure of the machines and widespread cheating due to a corrupted source code or other imponderable glitches and hitches. This could lead to civil unrest that may precipitate military intervention and people power.

Our electoral system has been automated to speed up the count and to lessen the possibility of fraud, especially the dreaded “dagdag-bawas” that pervaded the old, slow manual count. Ironically, because of these imponderables and unimaginable, the PCOS system may not achieve its noble goals; worse, it may further undermine public confidence in our electoral processes.

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