DAVAO CITY - The May 2010 elections may not be the first time taxi driver Rogelio Bustamante is voting. But automation is new territory for this 46-year-old Davaoeño and this time, voting makes him anxious.
“Ewan ko kung paano bumoto. Sabi nila madali lang pero wala akong alam tungkol sa computer. Baka hindi na lang kaya ako boboto (I do not know how to vote. They say it’s easy but I don’t know anything about computers. Maybe I will not vote at all),” Bustamante said jokingly.
Editha Belda, a fruit vendor in Davao, is also bothered by recent news of failures of both machine and transmission of results in mock polls and the recently concluded Overseas Absentee Voting.
“Kung pumapalpak ang machine sa testing pa lang, baka sa eleksyon, hindi rin yan gumana (If the machines failed during testing, maybe they will not work in the election)," said Belda.
According to Social Weather Stations’ (SWS) Mahar Mangahas, it is normal for some voters to feel a little anxiety over automated elections.
“On the capability of the machine the more dominant feeling is anxiety rather than comfort," Mangahas said.
In the latest SWS pre-election survey, anxiety has not been eliminated despite massive efforts to boost the confidence of the public in the automated polls. The biggest worry is still poll fraud.
New generation polls, same old fraud
While the Automated Election System (AES) is expected to be better than manual elections, many Filipinos still feel cheating and other irregularities will be prevalent in the May 2010 automated polls.
In the SWS pre-election survey, “vote-buying” still tops the expected irregularity (71%), followed by the deployment of “flying voters” (48%), “harassment of voters” (45%), and “campaign violence” (37%).
“Before 2004, the people were calm, until the ‘Hello Garci’ scandal. Maybe that’s why in 2007, (cheating) became a worry point. (The) 2010 (elections) is almost like 2007 or a little higher than 2007. Worrisome,” said Mangahas.
Voters expect the Comelec to be “on top of the situation” by guarding the machines against sabotage or fraud. The SWS Pre-election survey showed respondents giving Comelec a “net trust” of +46 a slight improvement from +44 in October 2009.
“The Comelec has recovered the people’s trust from the dark days of 2005 and 2006 during the ‘Hello Garci and Abalos period’ but it should never feel it’s ‘forever’. The Comelec should never fall in the negative territories at all,” according to Mangahas.
Failure of elections and People Power
Public anxiety today is unchanged from the Pre-election survey in October 2009 where 49% warned of failure of elections resulting in People Power.
Anxiety in the National Capital Region (NCR) is growing over time. “Gross warning” over People Power is up 57% in February 2010, from 54% in October 2009.
“What can go wrong will go wrong”
Many respondents also believe that the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines can easily be sabotaged. Net worry score remains at plus 21 with 46% of the respondents thinking that the machines can be sabotaged while only 25% thinking otherwise.
The anxiety is about the same in a similar study in October 2009 where 47% of the respondents said they were worried over possible machine sabotage, and 28% say they are confident that the machines cannot easily be sabotaged. Net worry score in October 2009 was +18.
Of the total number of respondents in the February survey, 58% trust that the Comelec can guard the machines against sabotage, while 12% distrust the Comelec.
Automation easy in principle
The study shows 55% expect the May 2010 elections with AES will be much easier than the previous elections while 26% expect the AES to make the polls somewhat easier. Still, 10% of the respondents think that voting will be more difficult while 9% believe it will just be as easy or difficult as manual elections.
The same study shows many voters are already familiar with the shading system of voting, with 62% of the respondents claiming that they have previously filled out forms that require shading--- half of them through college entrance tests while 2/3 of them have filled out other official forms in the past by shading.
“They’re okay in the sense that shading is not strange. They’ve done it before,” Mangahas said.
The burden of educating voters about the automated polls rests mainly on the Comelec but election watchdogs, private groups and the media have also made it their responsibility and advocacy to orient voters.
In the case of the May 2010 elections, 86% of the respondents learned about AES on television, which shows that media is still the most effective way of disseminating information on AES.
SWS revealed the total awareness rate for the automated elections is now at 93%.
Are the machines accurate?
While Comelec and Smartmatic TIM aggressively pitched the accuracy of the automated polls, 17% of the respondents still doubt that the Precinct Count Optical Scan machines (PCOS) will deliver accurate results in the upcoming elections.
Compared with manual elections, 57% feel that the AES will probably be accurate while only 25% of the respondents are confident that the automated elections will be more accurate than manual elections.
Voter Education to the last day
The SWS survey held in February 24 to 28, 2010 was sponsored by the Asia Foundation. It was conducted on 2,100 registered voters with a 2.2% margin of error.
The survey findings were shared during the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) stakeholders meeting held this month in Davao City. In the survey, Mindanao respondents showed the highest expectations for harassment of voters (60%) and violence during campaign (52%) compared to NCR, Luzon and the Visayas.
That’s why poll watchdogs in Mindanao are pushing for aggressive and extensive voter education on the automated elections. With information and voter empowerment and education covered, what’s left to do is pray for peaceful and honest polls. (with reports from Brix Pansacala of ABS CBN Davao)