"Here is what happened in LA County."
While societies across the world may have been subjected to a massive re-ordering by the COVID-19 pandemic, the successful US election has shown that the spirit of democracy remains unscathed.
Regardless of the outcome of the presidential race, democracy itself has already won against the virus. My gulay, this is deeply reassuring as this stellar example set by the US puts to rest any dangerous talk of postponing the 2022 general elections here at home.
No, Santa Banana, the pandemic cannot be used by interest and partisan groups as an excuse to scuttle elections – indeed, let us not allow this sacred constitutional right to fall victim to the virus!
Very commendable as well were the measures that the election bodies in different jurisdictions put in place to reduce the risk of transmissions. Counties across the US implemented measures to reduce the volume of voters per poll center and protect voters at the poll centers. This is something that the Commission on Elections might do well to study for possible implementation in 2022.
Los Angeles County, the largest of all jurisdictions and home to some half-million Filipinos, serves as a model to see this in action.
My gulay, authorities implemented a new voter-centered voting system which made the whole experience of casting ballots so much smoother. The new system, called Voting Solutions for All People, replaced the circa-1968 voting system with an entirely new model. It redesigned processes, locations, voting days and registration. Who knew that their voting system was more than 50 years old? It was definitely time for an upgrade.
To reduce the volume of voters, Los Angeles allowed voters to participate by mail. In addition, voters were given 11 days to visit any vote center to cast their ballots meaning they selected where they wanted to vote. These measures reduced the long lines and made the whole exercise safe, in light of the pandemic.
My gulay, if there were a way for the Comelec to adopt that system here!
In LA, voters also had the option to pre-mark their selection on their computers or mobile devices for later casting on a voting center, which greatly sped up the process. A faster voting process means less probability for contagion, and a more efficient voting system.
Those voting in person found ballot marking devices that produced a piece of paper that voters could inspect, verify and cast after ensuring their choices were currently captured. A total of 31,000 of these BMDs were manufactured by supplier Smartmatic, which afforded LA County the flexibility to accommodate variations in voter turnout, and ensure that back-up devices were always available.
Large sports arenas like the STAPLES Center, home of the Los Angeles Lakers, or the Dodgers Stadium, were turned into voting centers. These venues facilitated social distancing. Voters were also given masks and hand sanitizers, and were distanced all throughout the process.
Here in the Philippines, with 18 months to go before the 2022 general elections, we can take a page or two from the US, South Korea, Singapore, and other representative governments which have shown that there is no stopping democracy – come hell or high water, or in this case, a global pandemic.
Note that in many cases, all it takes is simple common sense.
For the 2020 US presidential elections, LA County deployed the new technology to facilitate and improve the voting experience. Using touchscreen ballot marking devices built by Smartmatic, Filipino-American voters were able to select their native language in order to choose their leaders.
More than half of LA County’s population speaks a language other than English at home. Smartmatic made the voting process as inclusive as possible; voting instructions and ballots were available in 13 languages on the BMD touchscreen as well as in audio instructions provided for those with disabilities.
This was the first deployment in presidential elections of the VSAP system. With this voter-centered solution, LA County replaced the old system. The VSAP actually overhauled nearly every aspect, my gulay, of the auditing processes, locations on voting days, and registration procedures.
LA County has made a giant leap in modernizing the largest election jurisdiction blazing new trails. The system is inclusive, secure, auditable and user-friendly.
Among the most forward-looking business tycoons in the Philippines is Roberto Valdes Ongpin – RVO or Bobby to friends and associates.
It is not too well-known that he was one-time Minister of Trade of then-strongman President Ferdinand E. Marcos. In the aftermath of the Ninoy Aquino assassination, foreign exchange stood at a standstill as a result of the outflow of foreign exchange by foreign investors. I knew this because I was then business editor of the Philippines Herald.
As trade minister, Ongpin devised a way to compel all Binondo foreign exchange traders to organize what was then called the Binondo Central Bank.
Ongpin called them and asked them to supply the much-needed foreign exchange to normalize imports and exports. He threatened them he would put them in a stockade if they did not cooperate. Santa Banana, Ongpin’s plan worked!
Ongpin became well-known worldwide for saving the Philippines from economic collapse. After the downfall of Marcos, the International Monetary Fund asked him to save other countries’ problems. An example was Egypt.
After a decade of doing business internationally. Ongpin returned to the Philippines during the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo regime.
Eddie Tordesillas, Ongpin’s undersecretary at one time, took me to Balesin, one of the developments of Ongpin. Balesin is an exclusive members-only club where Ongpin took refuge from the coronavirus.
Ongpin has, since his return, expanded Alphaland as a high-end property developer. Aside from Balesin, he has City Club, the Makati Place, and Mountain Lodges in Baguio.
Bobby was once my student at Ateneo de Manila, as was his brother Jimmy. I am very proud of Bobby for his vision and hands-on management style.