Wednesday, March 18, 2009

To automate or not

WAR is brewing. The bone of contention is whether to fully automate the 2010 elections or not. There is no truth, however, to the crap that the P11.3 billion budget for poll automation that has already been approved by Congress has propelled the war more substantially, with hordes of opportunists salivating on the sidelines.

Suddenly we have benchers now taking positions as reformists, frugalists, obstructionists, and lobbyists for a myriad of technology suppliers.

The reformists are those who cry for an overhaul of the Commission on Elections (Comelec). They are of the belief that no amount of technology no matter how foolproof will redeem the likes of “garci” who will always find a way to desecrate people’s will over a bag of gold. Sadly, the Commission is still teeming with this breed of election officials.

The frugalists insist that the budget is too much. They are the proponents of the open election system (OES) that will reduce the budget to half. Under this scheme, the votes casts are tallied manually at the precinct level, then elections results are encoded into a computer and posted on the web. The results now on the web are then accessed by the city and municipal board of canvassers to produce the statement of votes and certificates of canvass. This goes through for the provincial and national board of canvassers. But will frugality bring about the needed electoral reforms?

The lobbyists are marketing executives armed with heavy budgets. The objective is to make a kill and sell their product. Like pharmaceutical companies, they go around convincing influence groups of their ware. Subtly, they bribe and launch expensive media campaign without a trace.

But people are crying for change. The age-old manual process is helpless and need to be dumped. Even the bishops have been calling for electoral reform. In their 2006 pastoral statement entitled Shepherding and Prophesying in Hope, they said, “We reiterate our call for a thorough reform of the commission on Elections to restore trust in our electoral process. The call for resignation or even prosecution of a number of the Commissioners should not be lightly brushed aside. The electoral process, including counting of votes, needs to be reformed and modernized before the next elections.”

The poll automation is the only reasonable alternative to the rotten manual electoral process. Expectedly, there will be some imperfections as happens even in the United States. But if this will reduce wholesale cheating to a degree, then let not the obstructionists, who may even be funded by traditional politicians, clatter up along way. But, of course, the criticism lodged on the Optical Mark Reader (OMR) which is preferred by Comelec, needs to be addressed.

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