I USED to think that electoral reforms will have to start with serious inculcation from the grassroots. Like, for instance, teachers bombarding students as young as 7 or 8 about the sanctity of one’s vote and how it is a powerful tool in nation building.
Tuesday night, however, I realized that electoral forms can begin from such a jologs source (I love the way this video–12 seconds in–asks, “Can I tell you a story?”).
Yup, believe it or not, memorizing the lyrics to that much-maligned video by the Sex Bomb Dancers may actually be the key to changing the way politics is played in the country.
It started out as a joke, this realization of mine. A handful of employees were inside the editor’s lounge of the Philippine Daily Inquirer to listen to the people from Smartmatic preach the advantages of poll automation and to actually hold mock elections to get a first-hand feel of how it’s going to be in one of the most chaotic seasons in the Philippine calendar.
While filling out a mock ballot, I kidded a few friends about how all one had to do to avoid confusion was to sing the Sex Bomb jingle while inside the voting booth.
After listening to the people from Smartmatic people talk, the Sex Bomb had the last laugh. I mean, they would have if they were actually there.
I know automation scares the bejeezus out of us mainly because its something new. With our foray into the digital world as far as elections are concerned, there is the accompanying digital fear–some of which are not completely unfounded. Can the results be manipulated? Can people hack into the system and alter the count during the transmission of data?
Maybe. Although Smartmatic is certain the procedure is cheat-proof.
But we can help make things easier for us. This is, after all, a crossroads election in more ways than one and I really believe that the results of these polls will determine our electoral path in the years to come. Will we remain a cheat-prone electorate that is content to wantonly sell their votes because they’re not going to count in the end anyway? Or will we mature into an intelligent voting force that will finally get what it needs during polls?
To point us into the direction of the second scenario, let the Sex Bomb jingle hard wire itself into your brain’s circuitry. I mean, Manny Villar has managed to weld his catchy jingle with your memory, even the Japanese version of it:
And the Korean version, too!
How much more difficult should it be to memorize “May bilog, may bilog na hugis itlog?”
Really, the safest way to assure smooth automation is to remember two tips.
ONE: COMPLETELY SHADE THE EGG-SHAPED SLOT BEFORE YOUR CANDIDATES’ NAMES.
Under-shaded slots will not be read by the machines that will count your votes. And, when random accounting is done after the elections–a safeguard procedure that will ensure that no cheating occured during the elections–under-marked choices can be a source of protest for sour-graping losers (of which there will be many, given our electoral history).
TWO: DO NOT OVER-VOTE
If the ballot asks for you to shade 12 senators, shade 12 senators. I’m not quite sure if you can under-vote, but I’m pretty sure if you over-vote, your ballot will be invalidated. The Precinct Count Optical Scan machines into which your ballot will be fed for automated counting will declare your choices null.
There are also a lot of tips that, in the end, might leave you susceptible to information overload and leave you even more confused on election day. And a confused electorate is all cheaters need to manipulate the outcome of the results. But there is a simple safeguard against all that and it boils down to two things: Do not under-shade. Do not over-vote.
The Sex Bomb girls were smart enough to memorize those rules. Shouldn’t you be, too?
* * *
Allow a little editorial on the debate as to whether we are ready for automation?
I earlier mentioned that there are fears that digital villains will frolic where goons with guns used to and that automation will only pave the way for new methods of cheating. Already, people have been saying that poll automation is doomed to fail, that it will not eliminate cheating.
Still, it’s better to give the whole process a chance. In that tiring debate as to which is the lesser evil, the experienced public servant whose personal file reads like a criminal record or an untested candidate who has never been involved in controversy, I tend to favor the latter.
Sure, people who assist those with weak eyesight during voting day can still take advantage of their access to cheating and shade the wrong choices. And yes, people might pick up unused ballots and feed them into the machines after voting time. But these are all human errors. And these are manipulation techniques you cannot solve by going back to manual counting.
The machine itself has no biases and every form of manipulation can only come from its human handlers. But it makes cheating tougher. Really. After the Smartmatic demo, I have faith in what they call a “tamper-evident” machine.
“It’s like before, you kill a person, you may get away with murder. Now, if you kill a person, blood will spray so hard that there will be telltale evidence in your hands pointing to you as the culprit,” explained one of the Smartmatic officials.
Because of the stringent measures Smartmatic and the Comelec have put into the automation process, you can actually trace where manipulation happened–if somebody can make it happen at all.
Results will be counted in real time. They will be uploaded into a hack-safe site that will make canvassing possible right in front of your PC. The way I understood it, 12 to 15 hours after the elections, you can access the site and have right before you the complete and unofficial results of the polls. Two days after voting, the Comelec can proclaim winners already.
And it is this element of real-time counting that prevents one of the biggest sources of massive fraud.
For so long, my beloved Mindanao has been a haven for vote-rigging because slow, manual counting allows political warlords to estimate how many votes the candidate they are supporting needs to beat their closest rivals and then manipulate results to produce those needed votes. Fiefdoms have become some sort of voting warehouses down south.
Real time results will stop this practice. And the digital delivery of results also prevents ballot-snatching. Also, at the precinct level, PCOS machines will print out election results in hard copy (they’re like grocery receipts, only longer) and these are available to the different parties, and more importantly, the media for cross-referencing of results.
There might be unknown methods of cheating out there, but they definitely won’t be as easy or as rampant as when we were doing things manually. That’s why I was initially surprised why certain candidates were against election automation.
After hearing the Smartmatic peeps talk about the safeguards automation has against cheating, I no longer am surprised. I’m suspicious.