For many people, it’s easy to reduce the question of ARMM elections to a simple yes-or-no proposition. Its not that simple.
Let’s face it: the proposal to postpone the elections has generated enough knee-jerk reactions harping on the same theme: postponement is a blow to democracy. The truth is, there appear to be enough valid grounds to support a postponement; you just have to be able to look at the issue from a different perspective than the promotion of representative democracy. Look at it, for instance, from the point of view of the peace process, and postponement makes some kind of sense.
This multiplicity of perspectives – and the patina of validity each one has – makes this a very difficult question to resolve. Worse, it becomes easy even for people with absolutely no sense of perspective to pick a stand and pretend to know what they’re talking about. Some don’t even bother to pretend; content in the knowledge that they are parroting some official line – pro or anti-.
All this, of course, does a grave injustice to everyone who is truly concerned with the elections in the ARMM. More bluntly stated, it would be far better if the people who get to decide whether the elections are a go or not were to actually ask the people who – despite not having the power to decide the question either way – are deeply invested.
COMELEC for instance, is about as deeply invested in this as possible.
First, it has already spent millions of pesos on the automation of the electoral process. Considering that the automated election system about to be rolled out on the 11th of August is leased, this might not be much of a problem, considering that the suppliers can probably just stop what they are doing and then simply re-start ops when a new election date has been settled on. Unfortunately, the talk going around has it that the postponement might be all the way up to 2010. It that happens, one is left wondering whether the leased machines units will still be ideal, or even whether the leased system is still relevant. At that point, we will have to grapple with the reality that we would have wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer money for a project that would have borne great fruit had it not been cut down by political considerations.
Or, if as other whispers suggest, the postponement is only for a period of 90 days or less – what is the postponement for in the first place? And besides, additional costs will undoubtedly accrue due to the delay. Where will the money for that come?
Second, the automated election system (both OMR and DRE based) has already been proven to be accurate and efficient in two successive mock elections held this past week. However, these successes need to be consolidated in a full-blown electoral exercise, with real stakes, if we’re serious about automating the 2010 elections. Without a real and binding election to demonstrate the worth of an AES, it will be very difficult to gain any sort of public acceptance for automation in 2010; low public acceptance greatly decreases the probability for a successful implementation.
Third, the Advisory Council has repeatedly said that their recommendations for 2010 hinge on the outcome of the 2008 ARMM polls. They will be looking at the acceptability, for instance, of DRE over OMR (and vice-versa); they will be looking at ease of use; and they will be looking at whatever vulnerabilities might be revealed. Without the ARMM elections, we might well still be able to automate the 2010 polls, but we will be doing so without the benefit of practical knowledge.
It might be argued that we’re not the only ones automating elections, and that it is the easiest of things to learn from the experiences of others. That would be wrong. While the lessons learned by others will be of some value, it will not be relevant enough for our purposes. After all, what other jurisdiction conducts elections for President all the way down to Municipal Mayor all in one day? The sheer size of our elections alone makes us sui generis as far automating the exercise goes.
And so, the question goes: if we don’t automate in 2008, what will the Advisory Council’s recommendation be based on? And, considering the bases for the recommendation, will the recommendation be the best quality recommendation possible?
Fourth, the electoral system’s credibility has taken quite a beating over the past few years. A satisfactory roll-out in 2008 would have started the system back on the road to full credibility. Without the automated ARMM polls in 2008, there will be no way for the electoral system’s credibility to be rehabilitated; we start the rehab from step 0 in 2010. With everything that’s riding on the outcome of the 2010 elections, that’s an unacceptable state of affairs.
Fifth, it must be remembered that the voting processes isn’t the only component of the electoral system. Registration is a critical element as well. Pragmatically speaking, if the COMELEC is now deprived of the opportunity to demonstrate its ability to shepherd the automation of the voting process, how can it have the clout to push for the acquisition of the systems necessary to similarly update the registration process? Success begets success; misfires only spawn more misfires.
These reasons and more drive the COMELEC to reject the idea of postponement. It remains to be seen if these reasons will outweigh other considerations. For the COMELEC’s part, we see that pushing through with the ARMM elections will bring tangible benefits to the country – both in the short and long term. It would be a shame to sacrifice these positive outcomes for the sake of benefits that are purely a matter of conjecture at this point.