The sense of foreboding over the computerization of the 2010 election continues to swell. In yesterday’s Inquirer the chairman of the Makati Business Club, Ramon del Rosario, called for automated elections to be scrapped. In his view the consequences of a breakdown are too great: “A failure of the 2010 elections is simply not an option.”
Concerns about the insufficient time left to deliver the machines, fix the source codes, decide which names should go on each of 1,630 ballots (since each ballot will contain local candidates in each town and municipality), print the 1,630 ballots and distribute them to the polling stations, and train teachers and others to supervise the elections and the count were also voiced last week by former chief justice Raul Pangalangan (and reinforced by him in today’s paper).
On the possible implications of failed computerized elections, see Antonio C. Abaya’s scary column last month.
Still, if a failure of elections is not an option, nor is giving up the attempt to computerize them. Surely we are too far down the road to turn back now? Comelec and the outgoing Arroyo administration have to drive on and ensure that, against the odds, computerized elections are carried out efficiently in May. We can take solace from the fact that the Philippines has already conducted a successful computerized election, in ARMM in August 2008.
This is, of course, the second time the Philippines has tried to computerize elections this decade. Remember the P1.3 billion Mega Pacific Solutions poll automation deal that was scotched by the Supreme Court in 2005? Those counting machines remain rotting in a warehouse to this day, completely unused. Another failed attempt would mean we will be left with a manual system for the foreseeable future, driving the country further back into the 20th century while the rest of the world strides into the 21st.
Another costly and unsuccessful modernization attempt (to add to the NAIA 3 debacle, the counting machines already referred to, the ZTE scandal, and many others that we can all name) would add significantly to the international perception of the Philippines as a “cannot do” country.
India is often cited as an example of a chaotic developing country that successfully computerized its polling system. However, as Abaya points out, Indian elections are party-based, allowing illiterate or semi-literate voters to follow the party symbol, rather than trying to find their candidate in a forest of names.
The Philippines has higher levels of literacy than India, but even so the huge number of names on the ballot (whether computerized or manual) must make life tough for the many semi-literate voters.
For an indication of how important the candidates themselves take visibility in the ballot, see the desperate campaign being waged by the Aquino campaign to keep Vetallano Acosta off the ballot (the point being that without Acosta on the ballot, Aquino would be the first name listed, which according to a University of Vermont study would increase his vote by 2.5%).