This blog was written on May 19, 2013 and was re-published a few weeks after the 2022 elections.
12 noon, Election Day, May 13, 2013.
I’ve been in line for almost two (2) hours waiting with about 40 other people to vote at our election precinct at the elementary school at Mandaluyong City, Manila, Philippines.
I sit uncomfortably in a chair and desk made for perhaps a 7-year old child inside a classroom that serves as a holding room for waiting voters. It’s hot and humid and most of the electric fans aren’t working. It doesn’t help my shorts has a gaping hole thanks to a hidden nail on the desk that I didn’t notice till it was too late. A teacher assigned as an election worker constantly barks at us to move forward as we were on a line outside the classroom that was slowly moving towards the voting area.
Six (6) years or two (2) elections ago, voting would take not more than a few minutes. There was no holding room and no line. I’d come into the precinct, sign up on the voters’ list, fill my ballot, punch it into the ballot box, and go. I’d have the rest of the day to myself as Election Day is always a holiday in the Philippines.
It no longer is like that. With the introduction of automated elections in 2010, practically everyone has to wait in line unless you’re a senior citizen, a person with disability, or an arrogant politician with bodyguards who can cut to the front.
The centrepiece of the automated elections is the Precinct Count Optical Scan Machine or PCOS for short. It’s a black machine that looks like a photocopier. After a voter signs in and fills his ballot, one would feed the custom-made ballot into the PCOS where one’s shaded choices would be scanned and stored, ready for transmission after voting ends later in the day.
It takes two hours to vote because there aren’t that many PCOS machines. The government, via the Commission on Elections or COMELEC for short, allocated several precincts to every PCOS machine. Whereas before, where one would vote inside a classroom exclusive for a single or couple of precincts, voters have to vote in a room designated for as many as seven to ten precincts. That has resulted to a significant increase in the number of voters in the same place I used to vote in.
This brings us back to my situation that election day morning. Even though about seven precincts, including the one I’m assigned to, were combined into one classroom, there were at most only three (3) public school teachers working as election coordinators. Teachers that used to man each of the seven individual precincts 6 years ago were not assigned correspondingly to the classroom which now hosted the same precincts. The COMELEC apparently thought that even though there were going to be more voters, a classroom with seven precincts could still be managed with three teachers.
It’s a downright misleading notion that just because a process is automated, one can do just as well or better with same or fewer resources. Well, the COMELEC can always argue that because of PCOS, the Philippine nation would now know the results within hours after voting ended. So what if I and a million others wasted two (2) hours waiting in line? It was a holiday and the economy wasn’t like to going lose any percentage points in gross domestic product or something, was it?
Anytime anybody spends time doing nothing like waiting in line, there is a waste. Time that could have been spent doing something other than nothing may not contribute to the economy significantly but it sure would contribute to the ever-so-many things there are to do. I lost time I could have otherwise spent for chores I could have done at home. Others lost time which they could have used with their families.
We see the same mindset in banks, utility companies, movie theatres, factories, retail stores, or just about every service business. Managers ignore the importance of time clients waste in waiting as the managers scrimp on service. We wait in traffic and we wait for the elevator at the office. We wait at bank teller machines and we wait at the grocery check-out line. We wait to order in what is supposed to be a fast-food restaurant! Every day, office workers who live in the suburbs waste four (4) hours commuting an average distance of about 16 kilometres to their work places in the business districts.
Many executives and political leaders don’t recognize the value of reducing waiting time. To them, improving service entails additional investment in manpower and equipment. And in the first place, many well-to-do executives or politicians don’t know what waiting is all about as more often than not, they are given special treatment from having their own private elevator or just by having the influence to get to the front of any line.
The irony is one can reduce waiting time without having to spend too much. At that election precinct where I voted, many voters didn’t know what precinct they belonged in. They or the teachers had to read through several lists to find out. The incumbent Mandaluyong mayor, Benhur Abalos, wisely mailed my precinct number a few days before the elections so when it was my turn to vote, I knew what and where I was supposed to go and I was able to quickly sign in and wait for my ballot. Others who for some reason didn’t know their precinct numbers wasted precious minutes looking through all of the lists, searching for where they were assigned to vote.
The line would have been much shorter if everyone knew their precinct numbers. Six years ago, before the automated elections, the voters’ lists were posted on the doors of classroom precincts. Anyone could simply just look their number up and knew what list to sign onto when their turn came to vote. [Voters’ lists were posted on precinct entrances in succeeding elections but some voters still couldn’t find their names. -Ed]. It would have been quick and easy. If the same was done this past election, perhaps a few million people wouldn’t have had to wait so long and waste precious time otherwise spent for better use.