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SPECIAL ISSUE

Feb. 24, 2012

VIGILANCE ON THE AUTOMATED ELECTION, AIM FOR MAXIMUM VOTER PARTICIPATION!


The electoral process does not begin and end with casting votes. From its inception, the students have been confounded by arbitrary guidelines in the filing of certificates of candidacy to the point that even our standard-bearer, Ynik Antes eligibility as a student has been questioned during the Central Electoral Board (CEB) deliberation due to unpaid loans. This years USC-CSC automated election poses a paradoxical challenge on the legitimacy of the election as a democratic process. On one hand posits a scientific community enticed by modernization while on the other is a glaring apprehension about its necessity and feasibility at this point. It is clear, however, that a lot of concerns cannot be resolved by poll automation alone. A warning, ignored UP Los Banos first attempt to automate the USC-CSC election last year was questioned on the grounds of its feasibility and necessity. Granting but not conceding that the CEB has established the necessity for automation back then, a thorough assessment could have lead to some important points for improvement for this years election, which the CEB must have overlooked. The Council of Student Leaders (CSL) has foreseen the possible adverse implications of a half-baked automated election. The assembly recommended to revert to manual election due to the lack of ample logistical preparations. Samahan ng Kabataan para sa Bayan (SAKBAYAN) supports the CSL resolution and was likewise disappointed to find out that the CEB has decided to automate with the insistence of the presiding officer, Office of Student Affairs director, Lt. Col. Vivian Gonzales who has been hell-bent with the proposal since last year. What surprises us more is the fact that the decision to automate had the blessing of some college student councils despite the unities forged during the CSL meeting. SAKBAYAN has been apprehensive about the automated election since it was proposed last year not because we are against the modernization of the process. We believe that there is nothing wrong with automation if it would make the democratic process of selecting our student leaders efficient and credible. But we also acknowledge the necessity for ample preparation time to ensure that the process will run smoothlysomething that the 2012 automated election seems to lack. As early as 9 am on Feb. 22, your party-alliance has been receiving a barrage of complaints of election irregularities, and technical and logistical difficulties. Equal opportunity for candidates Our poll watchers and supporters reported problems in the interface of the automation program. Some of our candidates do not have their photos on the election interface. The SAKBAYAN campaign team has submitted the said photos before the deadline set by the CEB. Due to slow connection, the headshots of our candidates in the interface do not appear correctly. Some voters even reported that some of the votes they cast were not included in the printout. There were also reports of errors in the designation of SAKBAYAN candidates in the interface, particularly in the CA student council slate. In the College of Agriculture (CA) minor polling precinct, our SAKBAYAN CA slate does not appear in the official list of candidates. Meanwhile, the official list of candidates at the College of Human Ecology (CHE) minor polling precinct show the College of Forestry and Natural Resources (CFNR) student council slate instead of the CHE slate. To ensure that the election is truly democratic, it is important that the candidates right to equal opportunity to be elected is present. The automated election promises to improve the experience of a democratic process through the provision of a user-friendly interface. The lapses on the part of the election committee places our candidates in a disadvantaged position. Its effect is no different from the violations of election guidelines on campaign materials committed by other major political party. Disenfranchisement If the candidates right to be elected is undermined, their voters are automatically disenfranchised. In the case of the 2012 automated election, the voters access to their right has been curtailed in more ways than one. The delays in the opening of major and minor polling precincts due to technical difficulties and logistical concerns are insidious forms of disenfranchisement. Many students have failed to cast their votes because the polling precincts could not accommodate at a convenient time.

LIST OF ELECTION IRREGULARITIES REPORTED TO SAKBAYAN HEADQUARTERS


The interface does not show photos of at leats 10 SAKBAYAN candidates. The boxes that contain SAKBAYAN candidates' headshots do not appear red (the color of the political party) in the interface, as resolved in the CEB. In the College of Arts and Sciences, there were cases wherein only 13 councilors out of the original 14 allowable votes were recognized by the program. Another reported case involves student who casted 14 total votes but the program only recognized 1. Authentication codes for the minor polling precincts were not recognized so they had to use the codes intended for the major polling precincts. Not all SystemOne accounts were recognized by the program. The names of SAKBAYAN CA CSC slate did not appear in the official list of candidates at the Agronomy Bldg. polling precinct. SAKBAYAN CA CSC vice chairperson candidate appears as a CA CSC councilor candidatein the interface. The official list of candidates posted at the CHE polling precinct are the CFNR CSC slate instead of CHE CSC slate. The official list of candidates were not affixed to folders that were supposed to protect the privacy of votes, as agreed upon in the CEB. Most polling precincts do not use said folders. The names of candidates were posted on alphabetical order, not according to the candidates party, as agreed upon in the CEB. The university's intranet was used for other purposes simultaneously with the automated election, contrary to the CEB agreement. Changes to the location of major polling precincts were made without prior public notice. Election officers allowed voting to commence despite printer failures, contrary to CEB agreement. Voting in all polling precincts did not start at 8 am, cnntrary to CEB agreement. Computers in many polling precincts were slow and often requires system restart after a vote is cast. Another case reported a 3-hour per voter casting time. No printer in Math Bldg. major precinct. Printer experience failure upon provision. Computer and connection problems at CA, CDC, CHE and other polling precincts were reported. Univeresity experienced system failure at noon. Power outages at CHE, CFNR, and CDC. Voters turnout as of Feb. 22 closing at 5 pm was only around 11 percent. New Freshmen reported lack of SystemOne account.

It is easy to blame it on the lack of political will, but there are a lot of factors behind not being able to vote. The electoral process should be able to accommodate eligible voters whatever their circumstance may be. It is not acceptable to blame the voters if the electoral process itself is faulty and does not follow the set election guidelines.

The CEB should have provided ample time to ensure the accessibility and broad information dissemination for voters, candidates and election officers who are supposed to carry on the implementation of the automated election. Lack of proper briefing and sufficient dry run does not only hamper the credibility of the supposed guardians of our votes, but also causes delays in the opening of the polling precincts. Additional logistical issues include the lack of printers, stable intranet connection and even cases of power outage. (Please see sidebar for other election irregularities and technical difficulties.) Efficient and credible election Such technical and logistical issues have significantly contributed to the low voters turnout during the first day of election, which was only around 11 percent. This has pushed the SAKBAYAN campaign committee to immediately inform the office of Student Organizations and Activities Division (SOAD) head, Mark Lester Chico, who is in charge of the implementation of the automated election together with the USC and CSCs. The dialogue led to an emergency meeting of the Central Electoral Board (CEB) and the postponement of the election until the reported irregularities are resolved. The CEB arrived at the following resolutions to be accomplished before the automated election resumes at major and minor polling precincts on Feb. 23, 1 pm: Missing photos shall be uploaded accordingly Official list of candidates will be posted in order of political party Votes cast by College of Arts and Sciences students will be reprinted Recasting of votes in College of Agriculture once the interface is fixed shall be held at 2 pm Election will be extended until Feb. 24, 5 pm

Though some of the issues were resolved, they did not fully address nor rectify the lapses made on the first day as the changes could not be immediately disseminated nor implemented in such a limited time. Second day merely registered a total turnout of around 18 percent, including the turnout during the first day. Preserving a democratic process SAKBAYAN acknowledges that the flaws in the electoral process are not addressed by simply changing how we cast our votes. Automated or manual, the legitimacy of the election as an expression of democracy should remain intact. It goes without saying that if the automated election fails to perform such requirements, it completely loses its purpose. We may still have doubts about the automated election but these apprehensions should give us more reason to vote and encourage our peers to do the same! Election irregularities must not prevent us from exercising our right. We should secure the maximum participation of our fellow Iskolars ng Bayan to bring back the legitimacy of the electoral process despite the flaws of automation. But we do not stop in voting. More importantly, we should practice vigilance and protect our votes from being tampered and compromised, whether such attempts are done deliberately or as a result of neglect or technical errors. The USC-CSC election is a hard-won fight. Its historical value, starting from the first election in 1978, should be preserved and passed on to other generations of Iskolars. Although this years automation must be a source of important lessons for the student institutions, we must not be complacent about its current status; we should instead struggle to make the electoral process work the best way we can.