President Arroyo has signed into law Republic Act 9369, an Election Automation Law developed by the Senate under Richard Gordon's committee on Constitutional Amendments, with ample help from Senators Serge Osmena, Rodolfo Biazon and Juan Ponce Enrile. During the 2007 midterm elections, the law mandates the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to pilot test a partial automation system in six major cities and six provinces throughout Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
Senator Gordon has recently stated that unless some kind of demonstration is done by the Comelec in the 2007 Midterm Elections, the Public may not expect a fully automated system in place by 2010 Presidential Elections either. Formerly Mayor of Olongapo City, and the first head of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), Senator Gordon won't take the Comelec's CANT-DO attitude sitting down. Nor should he! I think that a transmission system can indeed be demonstrated in 2007 in preparation for a nationwide system to be adopted in 2010. Six cities and six provinces only represents a fraction of the 250,000 voting precincts expected to service up to 50 million voters in over 80 provinces.
A city like Makati has about 200,000 registered voters, requiring about 1,000 voting precincts. Based on the totals, the average number of precincts per province is about 3,000. Assuming that the voters will cast their paper ballots and that these will be manually counted as usual at each voting precinct by a Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) consisting of three public school teachers, can anyone think of a way that the results of those 1,000 precincts per city and 3,000 precincts per province, might be securely and electronically transmitted to a central information processing facility that is in the Public Domain? Can such an amazing feat be done in just twelve Cities and Provinces in Luzon Visayas and Mindanao? I really don't see why not!
JAMES JIMENEZ who often speaks for the Comelec on TV and the Press, addresses the issue of how to regulate SMS and Internet Campaigning on his new WordPress blog. James says wryly but ominously,
"Not that I’m giving anyone any funny ideas, but that’s how it is. How can the COMELEC regulate that sort of thing? If anyone has any idea on how it can be done, let us know. I may be totally against any sort of regulation being slapped on SMS and internet campaigning, but that doesn’t mean the COMELEC will just fall in line behind me.I may be totally against any sort of regulation being slapped on SMS and internet campaigning, but that doesn’t mean the COMELEC will just fall in line behind me."
Well, King Canute may have had more luck with the Sea than Comelec will have with the WEB and SMS as James readily admits. Comelec's track record over the years is well marked by a string of disastrous Supreme Court cases in which something Comelec does is reversed, decertified or otherwise rejected by the High Court. I hope James is right that Comelec will not find some new way to be struck down by the Supreme Court and Public Opinion.
Speaking of which, James had his hands full on Strictly Politics with Pia Hontiveros last Tuesday night on ABSCBN ANC as they were discussing Comelec's recent faux pas on the matter of Public Opinion Surveys during election periods. Only his trademark equanimity saves him every time he appears on behalf of the government agency that is consistently in the cellar of the Public's trust and confidence. He describes the ordeal in his own words in Zero Defect.
EXIT POLLS The issue had to do with the January, 2000 landmark decision penned by former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, ABSCBN Broadcasting Versus Commission on Elections, in which the Supreme Court upheld the use of Exit Polls after elections and the publication of their results. Perhaps the Comelec should busy itself more with securing the accuracy of their count and even more the security of their canvass.
In the case at bar, the Comelec justifies its assailed Resolution as having been issued pursuant to its constitutional mandate to ensure a free, orderly, honest, credible and peaceful election. While admitting that "the conduct of an exit poll and the broadcast of the results thereof [are] x x x an exercise of press freedom," it argues that "[p]ress freedom may be curtailed if the exercise thereof creates a clear and present danger to the community or it has a dangerous tendency." It then contends that "an exit poll has the tendency to sow confusion considering the randomness of selecting interviewees, which further make[s] the exit poll highly unreliable. The probability that the results of such exit poll may not be in harmony with the official count made by the Comelec x x x is ever present. In other words, the exit poll has a clear and present danger of destroying the credibility and integrity of the electoral process."
Such arguments are purely speculative and clearly untenable. First, by the very nature of a survey, the interviewees or participants are selected at random, so that the results will as much as possible be representative or reflective of the general sentiment or view of the community or group polled. Second, the survey result is not meant to replace or be at par with the official Comelec count. It consists merely of the opinion of the polling group as to who the electorate in general has probably voted for, based on the limited data gathered from polled individuals. Finally, not at stake here are the credibility and the integrity of the elections, which are exercises that are separate and independent from the exit polls. The holding and the reporting of the results of exit polls cannot undermine those of the elections, since the former is only part of the latter. If at all, the outcome of one can only be indicative of the other.
Nota bene: In seeking to prevent the 1998 SWS/ABSCBN exit poll of the Presidential election by issuing the Resolution assailed in the above case, the Comelec questioned the exit polls as "highly unreliable" because of the "randomness of selecting the interviewees" and thought this could endanger the credibility and integrity of the electoral process. The Supreme Court corrected this false premise by pointing out that modern random sampling techniques --contrary to Comelec's reasoning--actually improves the accuracy of an exit poll in predicting both winner and margin of victory in an election. But the Court makes clear that it is NOT the apparent reliablity of certain polls that justifies their use at all, but the fundamental right to express an opinion. Indeed, a public opinion poll, in the words of the Court, "consists merely of the opinion of the polling group as to who the electorate probably voted for" based on the data they've collected. Public opinion polling is therefore a kind of fusion of academic research and Op/Ed journalism.
ALL POLLS ARE EQUAL BEFORE THE LAW AS OPINION Are only the scientific public opinion polls protected by the Supreme Court decision ABSCBN v. Comelec (2000)? At a fundamental level, I don't believe so. I think that even unabashedly unscientific public opinion polls, which are really good for nothing more than entertainment, are equally protected by the principle just enunciated above -- that ALL public opinion polls, as far as the Law is concerned, are protected by the sacred freedoms of speech and expression. No test of scientific accuracy may be imposed by the government on such exercise of free speech, no more than it can impose, religious, cultural, political or other test on what a person can say, think and publish in any medium available to him or her. In other words, it is not only SWS and Pulse Asia that are allowed to express OPINIONS about elections, the electorate, candidates, and suffrage.
At the same time, I want to correct certain widespread misimpressions that James Jimenez's fellow guests, blawger Ed Lacierda and Business World's Vergel O. Santos may have left with Pia's TV audience by uncritically standing up for the surveys as generally "fair and scientific."
...YET NOT ALL POLLS ARE SCIENTIFIC While the SWS and Pulse Asia Surveys have been often enough accurate in predicting the quantitative results of elections, the same level of scientific respectability cannot be accorded to what I consider to be UNSCIENTIFIC public opinion surveys that are also conducted by SWS and Pulse Asia, namely things like their "self-rated Hunger and Poverty" surveys. Such surveys are not independently shown to be right or wrong in subsequent real events, unlike exit polls or pre-election voter preference surveys.The subtlety here lies in the fact that though SWS uses the exact same scientific methodologies to collect the data through questionnaires and analyze them mathematically, the survey questions asked in an exit poll or voter preference survey are fundamentally different from the survey questions asked in a self-rated Hunger and Poverty poll. Since the elections are precisely what voters have registered for, and participate in, their answers to survey questions at an exit poll are likely to be definitely known to them. But in a self-rated hunger or poverty survey, the questions may mean different things to different respondents, since there is not common experience or event, which validates their answer in their own minds. Since survey takers always try to put respondents at ease by truthfully saying there are no right or wrong answers in such an exercise, of course people answer whatever first comes to their mind. Thus, the data in hunger and poverty surveys tend to be suspiciously erratic, seasonal and cyclical and impossible to question or verify. Yet they are superb as PROPAGANDA against the government authorities, who, when confronted with DATA are ill-equipt to assail the unscientific nature of the questions asked, and the unwarranted conclusions and generalization by the pollsters themselves, amplified by a Media that thinks publishing the Margin of Error makes their coverage professional and unbiased.