My quarrel with machines | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

I cannot in conscience leave in the hands of machines the decision on who the next president should be, especially since he or she will have the power to appoint 11 justices of the 15-member Supreme Court. That decision could, with even merely partial bad luck, cook our nation’s goose for good!

About the first automated election in 2010 I already had had my doubts, on top of the usual intimidation electronic devices cause me. It didn’t help either that the promised safeguards to ensure the sanctity of my ballot had, one by one, been disregarded for one reason or another—having voted under that dubious system, I may well have participated in whatever cheating happened then.

At a public demonstration of the integrity of the system, my husband himself secretly used his own cheap and normal pen, not the prescription one handed out for the purpose, and got away with it absolutely undetected.

My own misgivings have deepened since I learned that the ballyhooed “biometrics” process I had gone through to be registered for the computerized polls had failed for millions of voters, and I don’t even have an ID or any other document on me to prove I’m not among them; I only have the word of my barangay office.

At any rate, Commission on Elections spokesperson James Jimenez keeps warning, “No biometrics, no vote.”

Blinks too much

I wish I could take the Comelec’s word or Mr. Jimenez’s for anything. Mr. Jimenez is precisely the same character who could not justify to my husband how he could successfully cheat with his nonprescription pen. It doesn’t help that Mr. Jimenez blinks too often and too much and speaks amid the growth around his mouth.

You can see I’m beginning to have a thing with spokespersons. But, then again, it’s Mr. Jimenez himself who, after telling me that millions, having “incomplete biometrics” or none at all, would not be able to vote if the neglectfulness or error was not corrected. As it happens, the error is not entirely the voters’ fault—it’s the machines!

But, Mr. Jimenez is dismissive: “Glitches,” he says, blink-blink, “can happen with any electronic device.” That means, in a blink or two, you can be disenfranchised, denied an inalienable right. No wonder countries—notably, where cheating is not even a way of life—are going back to manual elections.

Despite a Comelec proclamation that our first automated election, the last one, was a general success, doubts arose after the official count of the senatorial results had been stopped, and the apparent frontrunners hastily proclaimed, before all the votes could be counted. Also, rumors persisted that those voting and counting machines—those PCOS— did deliver, for a price, some hotly contested local seats. Well, with no paper trail and none of the promised safeguards in place, how could we ever know for sure?

In fact, we could have, if only Gus Lagman was listened to. He had been appointed to the Comelec precisely for his IT expertise, critical experience with civil society’s Operation Quick Count, and his general uprightness; as it happened, it was for the same things that he could not get his appointment approved by Congress. If there was one person I could put my trust in in these matter and make me relax, it was Lagman. But the culture could not abide him.

One particularly powerful senator (now detained while being tried for plunder) had determined to block his appointment, and, instead of standing up to him, President Aquino withdrew Lagman’s appointment. And that’s when my nightmares and anxieties came back with a vengeance.

Lagman and other IT experts, joined by civil-society groups—and certainly by me—are hopeful that, with a new Comelec chair, those notorious PCOS would finally go in favor of a more sensible hybrid alternative: a manual vote at the precinct level, which leaves hard-copy proof (the names of the candidates are written on the ballot, with the voter affirming his vote with his signature and thumbmark on a validating record); and an electronic count projected on a screen for everyone to see—by party and civil-society watchers right at the precincts, and by the general population on public monitors and websites and on TV at home.

Less time

If manual counting took between five and 12 hours, electronic counting should take much less time, yet without depriving proper watching.

Transmitting and canvassing, which used to take 25 to 40 days and at which stage cheating usually happened, should take, done electronically, only a few days.

Lagman, who, in fact, already has the program for the hybrid alternative, prepared by the Comelec’s own IT team during his brief, unconfirmed tenure, demonstrated it recently at the Comelec, with its new leadership. He told the television presenter Howie Severino in an interview afterwards that the commissioners seemed “receptive.”

Severino expressed concern about yet another bidding (a notorious process itself), this time for the laptops, printers and projectors that the alternative would require.

Lagman explained, with what seemed excited confidence, that no such bidding was needed: the Department of Budget and Management can itself buy the items.
And after elections, he said, all these would be donated to public schools, thus eliminating the profligate need for warehouses to store them, and for repair and other maintenance, unlike with the old PCOS.

The hybrid alternative seems embarrassingly simple, indeed. And pretentious simpletons are getting in the way, believing that anything they can understand must be unsuitable in this ultra-modern age. Other objectors brandish the law. A group of congressmen already has threatened the new Comelec chair with impeachment if Lagman’ plan is adopted.

Indeed, there are all kinds of enemies of clean elections. The general kind comprises those who dread anything that leaves no room for cheating. Mindless, manipulable machines now appear their favorite ally.

I myself relish my little power of writing the names of my candidates and the thrill of going around watching the voting and counting. Machines, though still with human-commanded safeguards in place, can take over afterwards.

That’s as far as my compromise with machines goes in regard to my basic democratic right.

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