Much as some quarters believe otherwise, I think the May 2016 elections were a success. Not just because foreign observers said so, but because the results, so far, have been holding up. And from all indications, the canvassing currently being conducted by Congress will bear that out, as well. This isn’t to say, however, that the elections were perfect.
There were ballot misdeliveries, 801 malfunctioning vote-counting machines (VCMs) that had to be swapped out for working units, 120 memory cards that needed replacing; without a doubt, there will always be room for improvement—opportunities for learning.
For instance, the Commission on Elections’s (Comelec) hardline stance against voting receipts should now be reevaluated. In both 2010 and 2013 the commission believed that the use of these receipts would unnecessarily expose the elections to cheating attempts and baseless allegations of fraud. It was half-right.
Coming into the 2016 elections, social media became the platform for a handful of people claiming that the receipts were not faithfully reflecting their electoral choices. A handful? Yes, I think only a handful, but a handful relentlessly re-tweeted, reposted and echoed, until it seemed that you could not go online without seeing a brand-new accusation. In reality, however, both overseas and here at home, the voting receipts turned out fine, although the damage to the elections’ credibility was already done. So the Comelec got that right.
On balance, and based on no systematic study (time for that later, I should hope) whatsoever, it would appear that the voting receipts did, in fact, defuse a lot of apprehension about the accuracy of the VCMs. Certainly, even a cursory scan of the allegations of cheating currently en vogue seem to indicate that the preferred target is the consolidation and canvassing of votes. In other words, there is a great deal more distrust about the way the precinct results were summed up than about the precinct results themselves.
And if I’m being brutally frank about things, even that distrust of the canvassing system isn’t rooted in the system itself, but in how that system was administered. Which brings me to another learning opportunity.
The transparency server is a very good idea. To improve it even further, I am confident that a way can be found to open it up to a greater number of “watchers,” so to speak; to allow not just the media and the dominant political parties to use it, but everyone who can meet the security regulations.
And that, by far, is not the only thing we can learn from these elections. We could start studying 2016 right this very second and still not learn everything we can from it by May 2019. But start somewhere, we must.
James Arthur B. Jimenez is director of the Commission on Elections’s Education and Information Department.