Computerization improves quality of elections but cheating still "a great possibility"

ARMM respondents were asked “would you say that there is ‘definitely no possibility,’ ‘a slight possibility,’ or ‘a great possibility’ that there will still be cheating if the voting system that will be implemented in the election in 2010 will be automated?”

 

Overall, 58% of the respondents said there is ‘a great possibility,’ 22% said ‘a slight possibility’ and only 19% said there is ‘definitely no possibility’ that cheating would occur.

 

ARMM comprises the provinces of Maguindanao (now including the towns of what used to be Shariff Kabunsuan province), Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Lanao del Sur and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan.

The region has repeatedly been criticized as the country’s “cheating capital,” for voting trends that are statistically improbable, such as candidates getting zero votes and for elections that are reported to have been “over before election day.”

It has also been made the reservoir of votes for those wanting to win national posts through dagdag-bawas (vote adding and shaving) and it figured prominently in the controversial “Hello Garci” wiretapped conversations between then Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano and President Arroyo.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) used two kinds of technology in the August 11, 2008 ARMM polls – the DRE or Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) system  and the OMR or Optical Mark Reader.

DRE allows voting through a touch screen or touch pad while OMR requires voters to fill up a paper ballot which is then counted with a specially designed machine.

DRE was used in Maguindanao while the OMR technology was used in Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Lanao del Sur, Shariff Kabunsuan and the cities of Lamitan and Marawi.

The SWS survey showed that in Maguindanao, where DRE was tested, 26% of the respondents say there is ‘definitely no possibility’ that cheating would occur in an automated 2010 polls while in the OMR areas, only 16.6% of the respondents say so.

In Maguindanao, 73% of the respondents say cheating is possible (56% say it is  ‘a great possibility’ while 17% say it is ‘a slight possibility’). In the OMR areas, 81.3% of the respondents s
ay cheating is possible (58.8% say it is ‘ a great possibility’ and 24.3% say it is ‘a slight possibility’).

Among the OMR areas, Marawi City had the highest number of respondents saying cheating would still be possible (91%) followed by Shariff Kabunsuan (86%) and Basilan (85%).

In Marawi City, 62% of the respondents said cheating is ‘a great possibility’ while 29% said it is ‘a slight possibility.’ Only 9% said  there is ‘definitely no possibility’ that cheating would occur.

In Shariff Kabunsuan (now back to Maguindanao after the Supreme Court ruled its creation was unconstitutional), it’s 55% – 31% – 14% equation; in Basilan, 65% – 20% – 15%; in Lanao del Sur, it’s 58% – 24% – 17%; in Tawi-tawi, it’s 52% – 31% – 17% and in Sulu, 61% – 11% – 28%.

While nationwide in October 2008, only 20% of the respondents nationwide and 32% of respondents in Mindanao said automated elections will “definitely improve” the quality of the election process,  in the December survey in the ARMM, 42% said it will “definitely improve.”

In Maguindanao, 51% said the quality of the election process would “definitely improve” while in the OMR areas, only an average or 37.6% said so.

 

While nationwide in October 200, only 41% nationwide and 47% Mindanao-wide were “somewhat more confident” and “much more confident” that the ARMM 2008 election was free and fair, in the ARMM in December 2008, 75% of the respondents said they were confident (52% somewhat more confident; 23% much more confident).

 

Asked if the new system of voting during the ARMM 2008 elections be replicated in the 2010 elections,  69% of the ARMM respondents agreed, 24% were “undecided” and 8% disagreed. 

In Maguindanao, 75% agreed, 19% were undecided and 6% disagreed while in the OMR areas, 64.8% agreed, 22.3% were undecided and 9.6% disagreed.

But in the OMR area of Lanao del Sur and Marawi, 81% and 80%, respectively, agreed that the voting system in the ARMM polls be replicated in 2010.

Overall, in the ARMM, 23% say Comelec is “very ready” to use the system employed in the August 2008 polls, in the May 2010 polls, 55% say Comelec is “somewhat ready.”

In his State of the Region Address on November 19, 2008, re-elected ARMM Governor Datu Zaldy Uy Ampatuan said the ARMM polls three months earlier “emancipated ARMM from being touted as the ‘cheating capital of the country.”

“The electoral exercise was acknowledged by local and foreign observers as the most peaceful and credible election in this country so far, thus helping Comelec regain its credibility and heading to a good start in 2010 national elections,” he said.

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said on election day that the ARMM 2008 election was “a significant milestone in election reform in the country in that voters showed enthusiasm in using automated voting machines amid security problems.”

“We have seen the long queues of voters eagerly waiting for their turn to vote using the electronic voting machines,” Jimenez said.

“We are so heartened about the initial positive voting turn out. With the new technology, the people of Maguindanao are more motivated to vote than ever before,” Jimenez added.

But poll watchers noted that the motivation to cast their ballots was attributed to the fact that voters were ferried in trucks, buses and tricycles from their places of origin to the voting centers, with packed food, and with some barangay officials even setting up a kitchen brigade outside the precinct centers.

Three days before the ARMM polls, Jimenez told the 4th Mindanao Media Summit in Davao City that the voting machines would give the public faster results on who won but “cannot solve the problems of manipulation, coercion, vote-buying, disenfranchisement, etc…”

“One step at a time towards 2010. Modernization is a continuing process,” he said.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)