Monday, October 12, 2009

Computerization of the 2010 Philippine National Elections: Can Juan Dela Cruz Keep Up With the Times?

The 2010 Philippine presidential elections is going to be a whole new ball game. With the computerization of voting, many Filipino voters, majority of whom are in the grassroots level and could barely fill out a form, will be in a daze as to how this new election process is going to be carried out.

A COMELEC Officer friend of mine who refuses to be named tells me that they are now holding seminars and orientation of this new system. They expect a total rewriting of Sec.211 of the Election Code, which provides for Rules for the Appreciation of Ballots. This provision is addressed to the members of the board of election inspectors, who are people, not computers.

With the advent of machine counters, an entirely new jurisprudence is yet to be laid down by the High Court. Election controversies are bad enough using manual counting. How much more when no human eye can see how the computers do it, ignoring the well-established rules such as idem sonans (wrong spelling, correct sound is counted to the candidate whose name sounds like what was written) and neighborhood rule (voted candidate's name is written on another space or line but is near or adjacent to the space provided for his name to be written counted in his favor).

In an age-long electoral process where the number one barometer of a person's vote is his intent, a computer counter does not possess the human discretion or discernment Sec. 211 obviously prescribes.

During the Dark Ages of Philippine elections, candidates opt for a mass-friendly name for easy recall and spelling when Juan Dela Cruz writes his candidate's name.

In 2010 however, the voters will be required to use a specially provided pen. Any other ink or pencil marking is no longer allowed lest the computer will automatically nullify the ballot. The ballot will look like a National College Entrance Exam testing sheet. How many ordinary Filipinos have even taken such an exam?

It is going to be multiple choice. There will be no more need to write the candidate's name. The voter will just have to shade in his choice within the oval corresponding to the candidate's name. Any erasure will invalidate the whole ballot. Even the average Filipino makes mistakes filling out forms.

Even the sample ballots usually given out by candidates before or during election day will look different. They will just have to indicate to their illiterate voters the particular area where their names are located. The poor voter who can barely read who mistakenly shaded the rival candidate's oval will never have his intent known simply because he shaded the wrong area.

So I must conclude that the coming elections is no longer an opportunity for the masses to be heard. This is a game for the techno-savvy, for the educated. Vote-buying may finally be outmoded. Enter the hackers.

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