The election that I joined on May 10, 2004 as an election inspector was ancient. I remember posting one big manila paper on my assigned precinct’s front board to prepare for counting immediately after the voting period. Ballot per ballot, a public school teacher would announce the names of each candidate written by the voter for various positions. Everything was manual. The election tally sheets (returns) and the manila paper were to be filled-up with someone’s penmanship. On the candidate’s particular row, each vote would correspond one vertical manual stroke then a diagonal stroke would mark each fifth vote.
Our precinct finished counting past 3am, 9 hours after polls closed. We personally delivered our tallies to municipal canvassers. Police as our escorts, we were transported to the municipal government grounds a few kilometres away from our precinct. With us were election materials contained in a padlocked yellow box.
Another body also received our election returns. Perceived to be independent of any of the political parties and the government, they would total votes besides the Commission on Elections (Comelec). It was dubbed a “fast count” but their counting would take a week or so before anyone can figure who were likely to win the national election. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, an incumbent, won that presidency but it was not clear as her win was marred by massive cheating allegations.
Fast forward to the first computerised election in the Philippines, May 10, 2010. I was a plain voter. I went to my designated room. I went inside, presented identification, received and shaded the ballot and fed it to the tray of Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machine. I spent twenty minutes to vote, ten of them was my walk from and back to home.
My experience was contrast to what’s reported on TV though. Long lines in polling centres hogged the news coverage, which was primarily blamed on the clustering of several precincts to just one room. Add the unfamiliarity to the new voting process. The Comelec was prompted to extend voting period by 1 hour. Add the hot May weather. Add the humid May weather. The public was unprepared.
What’s history came past 7pm. Data started to trickle to Comelec servers followed by surprising increments of precinct counts. By 10pm, they already unofficially tallied 25% of precincts nationwide. Past midnight, before the Comelec called its last press conference that day, tally report accounted 50% of the precincts. Liberal Party’s candidate Noynoy Aquino was leading. Morning after the election day, we all knew Aquino will be the country’s next president.
The quality of the politicians elected on various positions is another story but if success is measured against the perceived integrity of the counting that preceded this election, the best election in the Philippines had just been told.