Big election winners

Public school teachers, whom the Commission on Elections always deputizes to administer the polls at the precinct level, are the big winners of the PCOS (precinct count optical scan) automated system. No longer required to tally manually the election results, they were spared from harrowing physical work, nighttime terror threats and tedious legal hassles.

No manual tallying. Under the old manual system, the teachers remained at the polling places after the voting had closed, often into the wee hours of the following morning, to count manually the handwritten entries on each ballot and to enter them in “taras” on tally boards and score sheets.

Sometimes, these written entries were illegible, or appear to have been prepared by two different hands, making the ballot invalid. At other times, the candidates’ names were written on the wrong spaces, as when aspirants for mayor surfaced on the spaces for vice mayor.

And many times, some extraneous writings or strange drawings were scribbled on the ballots, making them suspects as “marked ballots.” These markings were used by bribers to verify the votes of their “victims.” Of course, the ensuing legalistic “objections” from lawyers confounded the teachers and interminably delayed the count.

All these tedious difficulties were eliminated by automation because the machines tallied the ballots instantly and transmitted the results electronically to the municipal or city boards of canvassers, sparing the teachers not only from the long horrifying process, but also from physically carrying the election documents and the ballot boxes from remote polling places to the town centers in the dead of night.

(I am not unmindful of the fact that due to transmission glitches in many—as many as 18,000 of the 78,000—PCOS machines, several teachers unfortunately had to bring the compact flash cards and/or the machines themselves to the election centers.)

No legal hassles. Because the PCOS count at the precinct level happened faster than the speed of knowledge, the old technical delays became obsolete. Teachers no longer needed to pass upon befuddling verbal skirmishes while tallying the ballots at the polling places.

Under the automated system, the election returns were no longer manually prepared by the teachers who were thus spared from signing, sealing, packing and locking them inside the ballot boxes. Consequently, they could no longer be blamed and sued by nosy lawyers and desperate candidates looking for scapegoats for their defeat. They no longer need to defend themselves from false or malicious charges of bias or complicity in election frauds.

Because of the speedy electronic preparation of the election returns, there is no more time to question their genuineness, or the authenticity of the entries therein.

Thus, under the automated system, there are no more preproclamation controversies, which were the scourge of teachers because they were often bribed or threatened or forced to falsify election returns, which were to be used as evidence in these preproclamation suits. Testifying during these contests is harrowing, and at the very least, very demanding on the teachers’ time.

Other winners. Also big winners are the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) led by Ambassador Tita de Villa and the other poll watchdogs, notably the Automated Election System (AES) Watch, Kontra Daya, and the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel).

PPCRV conducted two parallel counts: (1) electronic and (2) manual. The manual count was based on the paper election returns printed by the PCOS machines at the precincts prior to their electronic transmission. PPCRV collected these printed returns and used them to validate and verify the electronically transmitted ones.

The manual count will be the final check on the accuracy of the automated canvass, which by the way, PPCRV was not allowed to complete when the Comelec started its own canvass of the senatorial and party-list candidates.

It has a volunteer army of 350,000 who staffed the precincts all over the country, guarding not just the automation process but also the traditional “guns, goons and gold” irregularities that automation could not eliminate.

AES Watch, Kontra Daya and Namfrel kept the Comelec and Smartmatic on their toes, monitoring closely the entire automation process. Special credit should be accorded them for bringing to public attention the PCOS malfunctions, particularly the transmission glitches in 18,000 out of the 78,000 machines.

Despite the ballistic tantrums, dismissive attitude and threats of suits of Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr., these watchdogs gallantly stood their ground and kept the public updated on the election hitches. The nation owes them an everlasting debt of gratitude.

It is my hope, as it is the hope of everyone concerned with the viability of our democracy, that the watchdogs continue critiquing and reviewing the automation. The PCOS system had been given two electoral chances to show its worth. But it has not been flawless; it has not delivered its promised 99.99 percent efficiency.

Many of the present election commissioners, including Brillantes, will no longer be on the saddle come the 2016 elections. But I trust Gus Lagman, Joe Dizon and their fellow reformers will pursue the same patriotic zeal to dissect the PCOS system, and in the alternative, to help the new Comelec replace it with a better and more reliable one in light of lessons learned in the 2010 and 2013 elections.

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