, 2010 (STAR)  BIZLINKS By Rey Gamboa - It was far, far from perfect but a lot, lot better and faster than the previous manual elections. Last Monday’s historic automated national elections did have its fair share of shortcomings and birth pains, but with the results of more than 80 percent of precincts tallied within a day is a testament to the credibility of the automated polls, glitches and long lines notwithstanding.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) said there was a high 70-percent voter turnout which could have been higher if not for procedural lapses that created uncomfortable queues in many precincts and the glitches and technical snafus encountered by the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines of Smartmatic-TIM and the lack of qualified technicians.

The elections of old – long hours of manual counting, ballot box switching or snatching – will quickly fade into ancient memory after Filipinos had experienced the ease of computerized forms and instantaneous tallies and result relays.

Indeed, the swift process only strengthens the fact that poll automation is here to stay. Even while waiting for less than 10 percent of voting results to be tallied, it is never too early to prepare for the next elections in 2013. And this starts by conducting a thorough assessment of the recent whole election process, and this includes not only automation.

Clustering and registration

Other than the glitches noted in about 0.05 percent of PCOS machines, what turned out to be a cause for long lines especially in highly populated barangays was nothing technical but the decision to cluster precincts. While others had the fortune of being in clustered precincts with few voters, many had to endure for hours the searing heat while waiting for their turn.

Clustering may have been decided on to minimize the number of PCOS machines deployed, but government might want to consider de-clustering precincts, at least those with high voting populations, and assigning them one machine each.

Other improvements

The long wait could also be attributed to election officers feeling their way through the new automated system, giving rise to procedures which were not efficient. Some Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) processed voters by batches, causing undue delays because a new batch would only be allowed to enter the polling room when all voters of the previous batch had been processed.

A better standard operating procedure (SOP) could have been defined to deal with the senior citizen and disabled voters. While overseas voters, OFWs military and police personnel are assigned special dates to cast their votes, perhaps it would be a good idea as well to give senior citizens a special date. That way, they can all be assigned to vote on the ground floor of public schools for ease and safety. And those oval shaped spots should be enlarged for the benefit of those with failing eyesights.

New technologies, providers

While Smartmatic, as the Comelec’s partner in this automation exercise, managed to pull through and deliver the goods in relatively good condition, it definitely cannot be praised to high heavens.

Smartmatic was the center of controversy and doubt when the compact flash (CF) cards on its PCOS machines were found to be defective during test runs a few days prior to election day. As a result there was a mad scramble to recall and reconfigure the cards for retesting one day before election date.

This was a heart-stopping episode that only further fueled speculations of election failure or sabotage. After all, prior to the deployment of the CF cards, couldn’t these have been challenged and tested first at the shop floor to ensure 100-percent success at the precinct tests?

In the spirit of transparency, government should consider opening the doors to other technology providers, which could still include Smartmatic, to propose better, more modern, and subsequently more fool-proof technologies for forthcoming elections.

In three years, or by 2013, there may be even better machines that could offer smarter features. For one, this could be bundled with the automation of other parts of the forthcoming barangay elections, including automating voter registration.

The national ID proposal needs to be revisited if the country will want to truly be rid of flying voters and bloated poll lists. Heck, all Filipinos have in one way or another been giving bits of information about themselves to the system. So why the spooked feeling? If a national ID will help make our democratic processes stronger, why not?

Lastly, let’s have a better and more user-friendly posting of election results, one that will be accessible to citizens who follow the count at any given minute. Sadly, hosted by Smartmatic offers very little to the public.

Binay’s meteoric rise

As the nation waits with bated breath for the vice presidential results, one cannot but think of how the Jejomar Binay vote on the last week before election day equaled that of Mar Roxas in nationwide surveys.

For sure, and in hindsight, the Liberal Party may have been complacent for the most part of the campaign period, with Roxas having been miles ahead of his VP competitors in previous surveys. That Roxas’s campaign strategy failed to inculcate his solid accomplishments and endear these in the public mind and heart is quite evident.

To peg a political campaign on lower prices of food and goods, even of medicines, is a difficult task. In the first place, prices of basic commodities are higher today. And the war against expensive drugs had not shown substantive headway yet – at least for many.

The other reason ventured for Binay’s rise is the Erap magic and how it had rubbed off on the former Makati City mayor during their many sorties. On the other hand, Mar was seen as not really riding on the “yellow fever.” Even his attire was different: he was often seen in blue, and wore yellow only during the last few days of the campaign (when Binay was breathing down his neck).

Binay’s team also did its homework. They correctly recognized that those who were for Loren initially were not keen about Mar. And when these supporters dropped Loren (Loren lost 15 to 17 points), they were ready target for the Binay approach. The use of “NoyBi” leaflets, stickers and posters was a master stroke in positioning Binay as an alternative as Loren’s campaign sputtered.

Lastly, Binay effectively projected himself as a solid champion of the elderly and physically handicapped. For this, he was able to commandeer the vote not only of those 60 years and over, but those that were going to be senior citizens in the next few years.

Win or lose, Binay’s meteoric rise during the last stages of the campaign is a good case study for campaign and communication strategy.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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