THE MYTH OF AUTOMATED ELECTIONS

The Comelec has finally closed the deal to buy 80,000 computerized counting machines — worth a whopping P7.2 billion of taxpayers’ money — for next year’s elections.  Somehow, I cannot bring myself to sing Alleluia.

As a result of rampant cheating over the years, our elections have lost credibility.  They no longer represent the people’s sovereign will.

The proposed solution to the problem is to limit, if not eradicate, human intervention by computerizing the circuitous election process.  They say machines do not engage in dirty politics and have absolutely no bias one way or the other.  Automation is the magic carpet we have been looking for…

Oh, really now.  Computerized elections will lead to computerized cheating. In fact, it may even be easier to cheat.  Without computerization, a voter walks into his precinct, shows his voter’s certificate, signs the voter’s list, is given his ballot, which he fills it up in secret, and puts his vote into the ballot box.

Or, after he signs in the voter’s list, he is told, under duress, to go home as somebody else will fill up his ballot for him.

Or, for a price, the voter is told to stay home on Election Day.  Somebody else will vote for him.

In computerized voting, somebody else will simply punch the machine for him.  One dirty finger does it all.

And you cannot sue a machine in any of our courts.  Where can you find a judge who will hear a case against a machine?

What happens if a machine conks out during the counting?  Will a technician be around to fix it?  Will there be a stand-by unit to take over?  What if the trouble cannot be fixed?  Will failure in election be declared? If so, what then?

What will happen if some crazy mixed-up whiz kid still in high school introduces a virus into the system and the entire system comes crashing down?  A so-called firewall might be protecting the system, but an impenetrable firewall has yet to be invented.

Then, we might have no elections – the dreaded no-el.  What then?

In the end, automated elections will only work where it is not needed – in places were there is no cheating, and there are a lot of them around the archipelago, as in the thirty precincts in Bel Air Village Makati, where I vote.

Where, from experience, cheating is rampant, automation will not work. Those who have perennially cheated will find new ways to cheat.

The trouble is that Comelec is trying to tackle pockets of localized problems with a nationwide solution.  Local problems need local solutions.

Finally, those who cheat must be found out and punished. No one here has gone to jail for violating the election code.  In the U.S., the cheats go to jail.  Look at Mark Jimenez.  He made an illegal campaign contribution. The U.S. government extradited him and locked him up for two years.

Anyway, let us hope and pray that that automation will not fail us. If it does, failure could lead to chaos. Heaven help the Philippines.

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