After the elections (kinda has an oracular ring to it, doesn’t it? Optimistic even) whither will the COMELEC go?
I get asked this question often enough that i now know that it is a question i cannot answer on one breath alone.
Obviously, the first thing the COMELEC needs to take care of is settling the various issues that have arisen out of the ’07 polls. While the elections have been generally considered orderly and – as Sixto Brillantes himself said – accurate, there is a need to tie up all the loose and frayed ends.
Beyond that, there are the protests and contests that need to be wrestled with. Most of these will be fought out in trial courts all over the country before they even reach the COMELEC. In past elections, these protests filed before the regular courts would be brought before the COMELEC only a few months before the elections, feeding the public misperception that we are responsible for the delay. This year, with the Supreme Court’s instructions that all election cases be disposed of within 6 months (as opposed to 6 years), we can all hope that we won’t have people assuming office on 3 days before the next elections and all that.
Soon after the election period, I expect that the COMELEC will hold a post-election evaluation to identify all the things we could have done differently or better. Just off the top of my head, I can think of a few things I’d like to see changed and I’m certain that people can think of more (tell me).
And after all the wrap-up activities, there’s automation to think about; there’s continuing registration (and the continuing clean-up of the list of voters); and of course, there’s the beefing up of voter education.
Automation will take some doing. The new law will help, assuming that key people are able to get rid of the baggage of the COMELEC not automating 2007 and focus on getting the job done by 2010. There are two major streams that we can follow: OMR – the same kind of technology used for lotto and standardized tests; and DRE – touch screens and voting machines. The basic difference between the two is in the way voting is conducted. OMR means votes have to be entered using a paper ballot that contains ‘optical marks’ – marks that the counting machine can recognize as votes. DRE and voting machines, on the other hand, use some kind of machine or device to record the vote, i.e., you don’t use a paper ballot.
Authorities are pretty well divided on which solution is the best. There are pros and cons to each, and a solution has to be arrived at that matches the unique needs of the Philippines. And the unique challenges our electoral system poses. For instance, Senator Gordon has been very vocal in his advocacy of the use of personal computers as voting machines. According to him, these computers can then be donated to schools and whatnot after the polls. I see no problem with that. In fact, it is quite an elegant solution. However, we run into complications when we realize that the other half of the Gordon solution is to reclaim those computers after three years for use in the next elections. This, I think, is easier said than done. In fact, I believe that if we were to automate this way, we might end up buying more than a million new PCs every elections. I don’t have the hard numbers, but that looks to me to be very expensive.
Of course other solutions are expensive as well, which is why all possible alternatives have to be considered closely. And that isn’t the work of a month or two; much less the work of one or two TWGs. I think the process of designing an automation system must have some sort of public-input component. How that will work I haven’t figured out yet, but I know it is something that is indispensable.
Continuing registration is another concern that needs guaranteed public-input. Public-input in terms of people submitting their biometrics for the COMELEC database. Thus far, biometric data gathering has been a required feature for new applicants for registration. But that’s a teensy number compared to the more than 40 million voters already in the books, WITHOUT biometrics. We’ve asked these people to come in and have their biometrics registered but at the end of the day, we cannot compel them to do so. So we need a law that makes it mandatory for people to submit themselves for biometrics capture. Without that, the solution will never be as effective as we need it to be.
And speaking of effectiveness, we have to increase the effectiveness of our voter-education program. Until very recently, voter education in the COMELEC meant scheduling lectures. Hour long events where a COMELEC official rattles off prepared speeches on the right to vote. Puh-leeeze.
Voter education needs to be more inter-active than that (one well-meaning voter-ed attempt even had presentors reading from a script from which they were not allowed to deviate on pain of disciplinary action. worse, these presentors were not allowed to answer questions – which implies that the audience could not ask questions; which begs the question ‘where is the education in all of that?’); and it needs to engage the learners so that they are able to absorb the concepts and ideas they are being exposed to. Certainly, voter education must start early.
To this end, I am opening talks with the DepED to develop strategies that we can calibrate for all education levels – from pre-school to high-school. Yes, pre-school. The essence of voting has to do with the concept that we select representatives to speak for us at the decision-making levels of government. This may sound fairly complex but the underlying concepts are not. Basic leadership is something even children can understand (one of the more common kid games around is ‘follow-the-leader’); from that point, it is an easy step to the selection process – a means of choosing the leader – which can be as easy as a show of hands. The point is to expose children to these basic concepts and processes so that their minds are ready to accept the deeper ramifications of these concepts, such as the need to maintain the integrity of your choice (don’t sell your vote) and the effect of your choice on national life (if you vote for this person, he will make these kinds of laws that will affect your life positively or negatively). I’m thinking high school kids should be ready for these concepts.
College kids and done-with-school voters, on the other hand, need slightly less voter education and more voter inter-action. A means to make their voices heard so that they are engaged in the democratic process. For them, we have our existing websites and blogs.
All told, we are going to try and set-up a well round voter-education effort that will combine the use of conventional channels with modern tech. It’s the EID version of modernization.
Just thinking about all the things that need to be done is giving me a headache. Which reminds me of the story of this baby who, just before being born, was told by an angel that he would have to take several trillion breaths in his lifetime. The baby freaked out and asked how the heck he was supposed to take all those breaths and have time for anything else. The angel answered ‘one at a time, boy. one at a time.’