Is vote-buying worse in automated elections?

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

Widespread vote-buying appears to have cast a dark cloud on the integrity of the May 13 midterm elections.

This may be compounded by probable cheating, exploiting the technical defects of the precinct count optical scan machines plus the glitches in transmitting voting results that have delayed the national canvassing.

Evidence of vote-buying may be mostly anecdotal, making it difficult to pursue legal action against the perpetrators.

Yet, sources across the nation, affirmed by the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), observe that vote-buying has become worse; this must be seriously addressed.

Consider the following:

• Pangasinan Bishop Mario Peralta: “Vote-buying was really widespread, practically in all the towns. This is a sad development… it has become worse.”

• Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes: “Money politics reigned in the May 13 voting. Personal interests and benefits decided the votes.”

• Basilan Bishop Martin Jumaod attributed the vote-buying to the high incidence of poverty and hunger, among other factors.

• Fr. Dave Porcalla, PPCRV coordinator in the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao, noted that cash given away per family of voters ranged from P5,000 to P20,000 in North Cotabato.

Any specific case?

Last Thursday, sociologist Randy David discussed in his newspaper column the peculiar vote-buying means reported by his priest-brother Ambo, auxiliary bishop of San Fernando City and PPCRV Pampanga provincial coordinator.

Bishop Ambo received through mail an envelope containing the campaign leaflet of a party-list nominee and a crisp P200 bill. “All the other priests at my parish got the same envelope through the mail. I think the sender had no idea we are priests,” he told his brother.

Randy wrote that he was certain the envelope came from the person “who was explicitly soliciting votes in exchange for a small amount of cash.” But why, he asked, “would anyone be so stupid as to attempt something so patently illegal?”

He answered his question by citing three “educated assumptions about our political culture” which could have spurred the sender’s action:

1. “That the average Filipino voter, having no strong preferences for the party-list slot, would be inclined to vote for the (sender’s) party-list group for taking the trouble to write and attach a token of his gratitude.”

2. “That the few who might take offense at being offered a bribe would not be inclined to make a big fuss about it. The worst they could do is simply not vote for the (sender’s) party-list group.”

3. “That the rare citizen who might feel so outraged at being bribed as to actually decide to file an official complaint would not get very far anyway. (Sender) could just deny that the envelopes were sent by him.”

Randy concluded: “Deniability – that is the crux of this insidious practice of vote-buying. It is almost next to impossible to produce solid evidence that can stand in court. That is why allegations of rampant vote-buying are typically treated as no more than the expected noise from an ongoing political contest.”

Vote-buying, along with ballot-switching and dagdag-bawas (vote-padding/vote-shaving) used to be the notorious forms of electoral one-upmanship under the manual-voting system. When we switched to automated voting and counting in the 2010 elections, ballot-switching and dagdag-bawas were touted to have been rendered nil.

But vote-buying has continued, seemingly with a vengeance, in 2013.

And with the PCOS machine defects and malfunctions – a poll-watch group reported 18,617 cases of transmission failures – concerns persist that ballot-tampering at the precinct level and dagdag-bawas in the municipal and provincial phases of the canvassing can be done by determined cheaters.

The Comelec’s suspension of canvassing of party-list votes has opened an opportunity for such cheating.

During a campaign sortie in Dipolog City in April, I was forewarned of a vote-buying-cum-ballot-tampering scheme supposedly being carried out in the area.

Certain candidates, or groups working for them, were allegedly giving large sums of money to barangay heads and to heads of families in exchange for the latter’s commitments to prevent their voters from voting on May 13. Instead, hired flying voters would fill up their ballots in their names.

In his column cited earlier, Randy narrated the account by a voter from his town in Pampanga that basically affirmed the scheme I was warned against, but with a different twist in implementation. It apparently involved complicity of members of the board of election inspectors or BEI.

In sum, here’s the account:

• A member of the BEI took out a ballot from the ballot stack and handed it to the voter. After filling up her choices of national candidates she turned to the ballot’s obverse side. Whoa, the ovals across the names of certain local candidates had already been preshaded!

o Aghast, she desisted from protesting pronto. Instead she shaded another oval for her mayoral candidate, presuming the PCOS machine would reject her ballot for overvoting. It did not.

• Feeling violated, the voter, Marlene David-Ocampo, executed a sworn statement about her experience, citing the BEI member whom she knew.

That spurred the Comelec-Pampanga, the PPCRV and Namfrel chapters to investigate. It turned out that BEI members had distributed preshaded ballots in three barangays of Guagua, Pampanga.

Will there be other complainants?

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May 18, 2013

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