ROBERTO VERZOLA, Halalang Marangal (HALAL)
The most recent Comelec report (May 10, 2010, 11:30 p.m., 57% of all election returns canvassed) as of this writing suggests that the 2010 presidential election is an Aquino landslide.
Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III seems to be getting roughly three votes for every two votes for Joseph “Erap” Estrada and one vote for Manuel “Manny” Villar Jr., confirming late pre-election surveys that showed a widening lead by Aquino over his closest rivals, and a precipitate drop in Villar’s share of the votes.
The tight vice-presidential race is the surprise of the 2010 elections, with Jejomar “Jojo” Binay roughly getting 8-10% more votes than early survey front-runner Manuel “Mar” Roxas III. It also confirms late pre-election surveys of a come-from-behind surge by Binay and a collapse in Loren Legarda’s share.
The top ten in the senatorial race, based on the same Comelec partial report, are Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Franklin Drilon, Juan Ponce Enrile, Pilar Juliana “Pia” Cayetano, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., Ralph Recto, Vicente Sotto III, and Sergio Osmeña III.
Occupying the eleventh to the fourteenth slots – traditionally a very tight contest – are Manuel “Lito” Lapid, Teofisto “TG” Guingona III, Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, and Rozzano “Ruffy” Biazon.
Without a breakdown of the election returns received per region or province, it is hard to put the above reports into context. Whether the rankings can still change significantly depends on those regions which are most incomplete in terms of submitted election returns.
Where cheating happens
It is in the low-completion regions where the cheating usually happened in the past. Some municipalities or even provinces would purposely delay reporting their returns, to allow candidates to estimate how many votes they needed to win. They would then bargain with local officials who control the uncanvassed ERs to swing the results in their favor.
The incoming flow of electronic ERs will slow down when all precinct clusters whose voting machines worked, were able to produce a vote count and transmit their results to central servers have completed their transmissions.
Then the results will start coming in more slowly, from voting machines whose memory cards are being physically transported to municipal canvassing centers. These memory cards will be inserted into card readers of the municipal canvassing servers, and their contents “imported,” to be merged with the ERs that had been electronically transmitted.
Cheats and new technology
This is another danger area. Depending on how quickly cheats have mastered the new technology, some may have already acquired enough sophistication to configure false memory cards and attempt an operation to substitute memory cards, analogous to the old practice of ballot-box substitution.
Also, a still-to-be-determined percentage of precincts will still conduct a manual count, if no machine reached them in time, or the machine broke down and its replacement could not get there in time, or if the ballots or the replacement memory card did not get to the precinct in time.
Then manual methods of cheating can still occur. It is in fact much easier now to shade ovals than write names. Thousands can be marked without giving away the secret like handwriting would. Several million votes may still be at stake here.
In the past, the conclusion of precinct counting would just be the start of various cheating operations that occur at the municipal, provincial and national levels. It never mattered to cheats that their operations would create discrepancies between precinct-level data and higher-level data. As long as their candidate was proclaimed, the challenges, costs and delays that faced any post-proclamation protest was enough to deter all but the most determined victims of cheating. After all, they got away with it in 2004 and 2007.
Thus, cheats may still launch attempts at the municipal level and provincial levels, if they had already found ways to do so. One should not underestimate the creativity of cheats.
However, Aquino’s seeming landslide win will probably deter any attempt to cheat him in favor of the runner-up. Estrada’s huge lead in the 1998 presidential elections, and Obama’s huge lead in the U.S. elections in 2008, had made it extremely difficult for a cheating operation to succeed. Thus, the cheats did not even dare, even if the machinery to do so was already in place. Had they led by a much smaller margin, the outcomes might have been different.
If his landslide win insulates Aquino from any outcome-changing attempt at fraud, the same cannot be said in other contests.
The close vice-presidential contest may tempt one or both of the protagonists to tap operators to either strengthen one’s lead or overcome the opponent’s. Too many votes remain uncounted for either side to relax their guard. The drama of the 2010 elections remains to be played out over the vice-presidential contest.
The senatorial contest too has traditionally been marked by a very close contest between the 12th and the 13th placers. In 2007, Zubiri’s margin over Pimentel was only .07% of Pimentel’s votes and this was obtained through statistically impossible results from six municipalities in Maguindanao.
In such close contests, we will need the .005% or lower error rate from PCOS machines specified by the Comelec. Unfortunately, the accuracy rates of these machines remain a big question mark, especially after the fiasco just a few days before the elections.
Again, some of the protagonists in the senatorial contest may be tempted to mount an operation to ensure a 12th or higher position. Whether anyone actually will, remains to be seen.
Finally, given the recent fiasco of gross errors from the voting machines, will losers – especially local candidates – accept at face value the numbers reported by these machines, or will they question the results and demand a recount to double-check their accuracy?
Until these questions are settled, it is too early to declare the 2010 automated elections a complete success. – HS, GMANews.TV