American And Philippine Electoral Systems

Election is the bedrock of republicanism. It is the heart that pumps blood in order to sustain our democratic life. Election serves as a crevice in the democratic field where voters, for themselves and the public good, plant the seeds of their ideals and freedoms.

In a republic undergirded by a social contract, the threshold consent of equal people to form a government that will rule them is renewed in every election where people exercise their fundamental right to vote to the end that their chosen representatives will protect their natural rights to life, liberty and property. It is this sacred contract which makes legitimate the government’s exercise of its powers and the chosen representatives’ performance of their duties and functions. [1]

Primarily, the study aims to discuss the election system of the United States of America coupled with the examination and review of the Automated Election System in the Philippines. An election system is a concept imbued with several vantage points; hence, the study will explore only those points of American election system which has a bearing on the Philippines first-ever poll automated election.

In particular, the first part of the study will present a brief overview of the American system focusing on the national levels substantiated by way of registration and participation in the electoral process, the Electoral College, the role of the media and the system which they adopted in casting their votes, which is electronic.

The second part will make a review and examination of the 2010 Philippine Automated Election and make comments or recommendations for its improvement.

The American Election System: An Overview

Election is a fundamental part of the American system of government founded on the principle that the power to govern resides in the people. Elections provide the means by which the people delegate this power to elected representatives.

The chance to elect a particular candidate serves as an opportunity for the public to make choices about the policies and programs while promoting accountability at the same time. [2]

Election in the United States is held at regular intervals. Presidential elections take place every four years while congressional elections occur every two years. Elections for state and local office usually coincide with national elections.

In most nations, political party leaders select candidates for office in a general election. The United States is one of the few nations to hold primary elections prior to the general election campaign. In these elections, voters select the party’s candidates for office.

Electoral College is the institution through which Americans elect the president and vice president. Many American voters are not aware of the role of the Electoral College because they thought they elect the president and vice directly. In fact, when they cast their votes, they are voting for officials called electors who are assigned to each presidential candidate.

Each state is allotted a number of electors equal to the number of its representatives and senators in the U.S. Congress. Through its power of apportioning representatives among the states, Congress determines the number of presidential electors to which each state is entitled.

The elector’s primary responsibility is to elect the president and the vice. Each presidential candidate has a slate of electors assigned to that candidate. When the candidate wins the popular vote in a particular estate, the electors assigned to that candidate are the ones who shall vote in the Electoral College. The electors vote for the presidential candidate who received the greatest number of votes in their state. In turn, the Electoral College only ratifies the results of the popular vote.

In most instances, the candidate who wins the popular vote also wins the Electoral College vote. If the election is close, however, as was the election of 2000, the Electoral College may end up picking a candidate who did not receive most of the popular vote. The candidate who wins the presidency is the one who wins a majority of the Electoral College votes, rather than a majority of the popular vote. On four occasions in U.S. history-in 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000-the candidate with the most popular votes did not win the presidency because he did not win the most Electoral College votes. This is because Americans do not directly elect their president and vice president. If Americans directly elected their president, then the candidate with the most votes would automatically win [3] .

Voter Participation

The participation of citizen in U.S election is relatively low. According to my readings, slightly more than 50 percent of those eligible participate in national presidential elections. Only 30 percent of eligible voters take part in congressional elections during nonpresidential election years. Turnout plummets even further in state and local races that do not coincide with national contests.

In 19th century, machineries of political party boosted participation rates by employing thousands of workers to organize and mobilize voters and influence them to participate in the polls. Political machines began to weaken and then disappeared in the early 20th century. Voters will not participate without the presence of party workers who will encourage them to go to polls. In the absence of strong and stable parties, participation rates have dropped dramatically among less-educated individuals.

Voter Registration

Aside from political party strength, the national differences in voter participation result from variance in the registration rules. Voters must register with election boards of each state before they can vote. Towards the end of 19th century with the aim of reducing fraud and other election abuses, requirements of registration was made even more difficult. In urban areas, registration rules discouraged immigrant and working class voters from going to the polls.

Registration requirements have eased in most states since the 1960s. An eligible individual may now register to vote by simply mailing a postcard to the state election board. The 1993 federal “Motor-Voter” Act required states to make such postcards available in motor vehicle, public assistance, and military recruitment offices. Legislators hoped that easing burdens on voters might reverse trends in voting participation. [4]

Role of Media in the Electoral Process

The media, especially television, have played a role in the increase of cost in political advertisements in order to promote ones candidacy and the defeat of the opponent. Individual candidates spend more money on media advertising than any other else. To quote from my source, “in 1860 the Republicans spent only $100,000 on Abraham Lincoln’s presidential campaign and on those of all Republican House and Senate candidates. In 1988 Republican candidate George H. W. Bush spent $70 million, just on the presidential race. During the 1998 elections, a 60-second spot on prime-time television cost as much as $100,000 every time it ran.” In effect, candidates ponder more on fund-raising rather than debating and discussing issues towards the constituents.

The media have also made its impact in the dilapidating importance of political parties because it allows candidates to portray themselves to the electorate without any aid from their political parties. They use the media to gain popularity. These candidates erode the authoritative influence of political parties by appealing to the general public through the media. [5] National party conventions, which officially nominate candidates for president and vice president, used to be stirring meetings where leaders decide who would receive the nomination. Recently, presidentiables have become independent political entrepreneurs who appeal to the people rather than to party leaders. This has made personal campaign organizations more efficient moneymaking tools than the national parties. This dilemma tends to destabilize loyalty to the powerful institution of political parties.

Electronic Voting

United States has been using a system since the middle of 70’s that allows votes to be entered electronically, otherwise known as electronic voting. According to my source, this balloting system is also referred to as e-voting or direct-recording electronic systems (DREs). The voter uses an entry device to register vote selections, and the entries are transferred to electronic recording media, such as hard drive or a memory card. The direct entry device may be electronic, as with a touch-screen, or electromechanical, such as pushbuttons.

The earliest electronic system is the Video Voter, an electromechanical device. This is intended to make voting more accessible and comfortable especially to the disabled.

The [6] selection made by the voter comprises a ballot. After the polls close, the contents of the ballots are tabulated and reported by the voting system as vote totals. These totals are typically provided in a printed paper format that can be read by the workers at the individual precinct locations.

There was a slow reaction of e-voting systems in the United States. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 provided billions of federal funds for cities and towns to replace the existing punch-card systems. Many of these systems were replaced with DRE systems.

From E-voting of the West to Philippines

The lack of an independent proof or audit trail for the vote data collected by DREs led experts to consider the requirement that all electronic equipment should provide a printed version of the ballot that the voter could examine and review for accuracy and authenticity.

DRE-printed ballots are known as voter verified paper ballots or voter verified paper audit trails, VVPB or VVPAT for brevity respectively. VVPBs or VVPATs can also be produced by equipment that does not electronically record the ballot image or vote data such as devices used by disabled citizens that print or prepare a ballot to be optically scanned.

Recently, computer expert David Dill posted a petition about e-voting at Stanford University stating that operation of new voting machines that do not provide a voter-verifiable audit trail should be stopped and existing machines should be modified to produce ballots that can be checked separately by the voter before being submitted and cannot be changed after submission. The ballots thus submitted shall be regarded as actual votes taking [7] primacy over any electronic counts.

As one of the forerunners of e-voting, Philippines adopted with what has been practiced by modern democracies worldwide. Automation was supposed to address the problem of too much human intervention which made the system vulnerable to human error or fraud. The Comelec decided that the antidote was automation because it assured more accuracy than manual count and was faster which would unburden the people especially the teachers, from the drudgery of a manualized system.

Philippine Automated Election System

Pursuant to Poll Modernization Law as amended by Republic Act 9369, the counting, tallying, transmission and consolidation of votes under automated election system-AES will be done by computers. According to the Philippine Star, the Comelec has purchased 82,200 voting machines from the foreign company Smartmatic, which the Comelec calls Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines.

The excruciating and tedious counting process under the manual system which takes days, weeks or even months before the results are finally known will no longer be adopted. All votes cast at every precinct will automatically be counted by the PCOS machine at the closing of polls and the results will be transmitted electronically to the appropriate canvassing/consolidation centers.

Paper-Based System and Pre-Election Procedures

Paper ballots are still used during the voting process since voting is done through optical mark reader-type machine, in accordance with the mandate of the law. The ballot contains the names of candidates for every position from national down to local aspirants and the parties under the party-list system as well. There are ovals opposite each name and party. The ballot will be used front and back.

Three days before the day of election, the Comelec conducted a dry run of the PCOS machines by inviting members of the public to accomplish test ballots. These ballots were counted manually and election returns showing the results will be prepared. Then the same set of ballots will be counted by the PCOS machines and the results will be compared with that of the manual counting. If the results are the same, the participants will certify the truthfulness of the results by signing on the printed elections returns.

According further to my source, the PCOS machines was delivered to the 80,136 clustered precincts around the country albeit with some delays where they will be stored and sealed until Election Day. During this time, the machines are not allowed yet to be connected to any transmission lines to prevent hackers from having access to them. The public can secure the area where the machines will be stored.

The Voting Process and Transmission of Results

The machine can still read a marking even if the voter fails to fully shade the ovals opposite the candidates of his choice. The PCOS machine has an LCD screen which will signify if the ballot is accepted or rejected to prevent ‘spoiled’ votes. [8]

9In contrast with manual voting, the voter has to write the names of candidates and parties which he or she will vote. This is system is prone to errors and confusion such as when a name is misspelled, there are similar names or the names are confusingly similar. Under the automated system, these problems are immediately resolved because the voter has to mark only the names of the candidates of his choice whose names have already been printed on the ballot.

The transmission cable is connected to the PCOS machine for the transmission of results from a particular precinct after the printing of the election returns. The results are transmitted electronically to the City or Municipal Board of Canvassers (BOC) via canvassing or consolidation machines which will consolidate the results from all precincts within the city or municipality. From then, it is to be transmitted electronically to the Comelec central office.

‘Two-faced’ media

The effect of broadcast media varies accordingly with respect to the candidate’s political advancement prior to election and towards the credibility of the poll automation.

Firstly, with the advent of Penera 2 Supreme Court Decision, premature campaigning has lost its relevance in the modern world. In effect, even before the start of the campaign period, infomercials are rampant in TV screens, radio, Internet and others anywhere. These infomercials or ads, which may last from fifteen to sixty seconds, emphasize issues and personal qualities that appear important in the poll data. They attempt to establish candidate name identification, create a favorable image of the candidate and negative image of the opponent. These ads often make use of ‘sound bites’, short and punchy statements from the candidate designed for voters to remember otherwise known as the ‘last song syndrome’.

In effect, there is a radical shifting of the equilibrium which tends to favor those candidates with deep pockets despite the presence of limitations prescribed by law.

Secondly, media exposes those controversies and anomalies surrounding the poll automation e.g. overpricing of election paraphernalia, the validity of the contract between Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM, the authenticity of the source code, the possibility of machine failure and hacking and the likes. This scenario triggers the relentless minds of Filipinos, but not all, to question and to doubt the result of the automated election. Pessimism regarding the automation’s credibility is widespread as we have been hypnotized by the ‘evil spells’ of past elections. In some way or another, media has succeeded in negativizing the legitimate image of what was supposed to be a ‘giant leap’ from primitivism of manual count to modernity via electronic count.

The role of media is controversial considering that journalists, after all, are not elected by the people. They are not even appointed or conformed by elected officials. One might ask if what gives these private citizens, working mostly for private corporations, the right to an influential role on how the country is governed. This study aims not to criticize the media because on the other side of the spectrum, they play a vital role in maintaining the government’s integrity because media act as a disinfectant in exposing flaws in the government on the premise that it helps to correct those flaws if it is exposed. But unfortunately, this is not an issue covered by this academic paper.

Pros and Cons of the System

Several days prior to the day of the election, several personalities made a conclusion that there is likelihood that the automated election in 2010 can lead to cheating or failure of election. There are legitimate fears about the authenticity and reliability of the source code for the Precinct Counting Optical Scanners (PCOS), a tightly-guarded human readable set of rules or commands that will enable the machine to function.

The chaotic manner by which the Comelec tested and finally awarded the contract was becoming apparent from a strange failure to maintain adequate time-and-motion studies, a terrible ratio of two customized pens per voting precinct and including the lapses and mishaps during the Election Day. Experts opined as well that machines are susceptible to jamming or hacking. Even the printing of these official ballots is loaded with security concerns.

The fears raised by several sectors emulate a general distrust and suspicion not only in the Comelec as sentinel of the democratic vote, more so when the process lacks precision or transparency and the implementers lack of enough competence and possess little credibility not to speak of the inherent weaknesses such as vote-buying or harassing the Board of Election Inspectors to pay voters so they can fill up ballots themselves and the like.

But on the brighter side, the automated election is the path to modernizing the Philippine electoral process. To quote from my source “the technology might just be the equalizing factor against fraud that has bugged the system for years. It may not be perfect but it can lessen the impact of cheating against the results. Speedy counting is urgently needed in order to alleviate, if not totally removed, the chances of fraud”.

Christian Monsod, a well known political figure is of the opinion that “there was no failure of elections, no catastrophic failure of technology or logistics and no outrage over its conduct or results. President Aquino won by the largest margin in history which was accurately tracked by the surveys and exit polls. There was a peaceful transfer of power on June 30, 2010. The scenario of a vast and elaborate conspiracy to make the elections fail so that Madam Arroyo could stay forever did not make sense”. [10]

The Comelec’s plan to use the PCOS to speed-up the counting, transmission and canvassing of votes is aimed at preventing cheating, specifically ‘dagdag-bawas’ or vote padding during the canvassing of election results. Printed names on ballots will prevent “misappreciation” of votes as compared to ballots written individually by the voters. Electronic transmission of results will help reduce physical intervention or obstruction and there would be faster counting and consolidation of results. In effect, winners could be declared without further delays.

Contrary to what many believe, hacking the machines or tampering with the results while they are being transmitted are not the most controversial issues in poll automation because these would be expensive and difficult due to the security features that are carefully and analytically encrypted therein.

Recommendations

Voter’s education is the primary key to prevent fraud in the new electoral process because election operators would depend on them to introduce cheating and fraud in the results. Likewise, poll watchers should know which parts of the process are critical so they can guard against cheating.

The print, broadcast and online media will play a vital role in helping to educate voters and all stakeholders regarding the new automated poll system. Everybody must be vigilant in protecting their rights so as not to be disenfranchised.

Due to the consolidation of polling precincts and to avoid disenfranchisement of votes, there is also a need for an additional PCOS machines to prevent voters from rushing and then congesting within the precinct as if there is ‘Wowowee’, on the verge of stampede, prompting others to wait and eventually got discouraged from casting their votes. There

After conducting an information campaign, there has to be a nationwide ‘dry-run’ of the poll automated election to be conducted within the last month prior to the Election Day. This is intended in order to minimize, if not prevent, unwanted and unnecessary delays and mishaps during the actual voting.

The Comelec must share as well the factual information about the automation and testing processes to accurately inform the public, including groups most critical of the automation project and to de-bunk misinformation and rumors.

To summarize and to quote from what Monsod had said in his opinion regarding the 2010 automated election, a lot of governance problem was encountered by Comelec during the poll automation. These includes the late promulgation of rules, regulations and guidelines, disenfranchisement from defective voter’s lists, delays in delivery or non-deliveries of election paraphernalia, inadequate training of teachers and Comelec field personnel, inadequate voter education, irregularities of procedures. Most of these involve procedures but since election is a process, procedures partake of the substance of suffrage. These problems can all be solved with better management.

Conclusion

The study presented the brief overview of the American election system coupled with the in-depth analysis, examination and review of the 2010 Philippine Automated Election System.

Election lies at the heart of every democratic government. Guarding the ballot of every individual against fraud is the primordial concern of the government per se. The people are the source of every power and authority that the government exercised. It is just but right to assure them the best protection and security the government can offer so that free, unwarranted and unhampered choice is achieved.

Despite the problems encountered during the Election Day and despite all the suspicions and doubts regarding the machines’ vulnerability to hacking, failure, bug down and many more, the PCOS machines were able to heed the mandate of the electorate. The use of the automated system did not result in failure of elections as predicted by many overly critical personalities but that much still needs to be done to make the system perfect. We plant seeds in order to grow. There is no harm in trying anyway; there is always a room for improvement. In other words, the automation of the elections in May was not perfect but the system itself remains a viable option. The system need only be improved.