I had imagined that my family’s voting experience this year would be seamless. I had renewed my registration, and my four children (ages ranging from 19-27) were all voting for the first time. The polling precinct was a stone’s throw away from where we lived. We knew this was a make-or-break democratic exercise and we were thrilled to participate.
It was anything but seamless.
Early Monday, our barangay, Teachers Village East in Quezon City, posted on its Facebook page that two out of the three Vote Counting Machines in our precinct were not working. The early birds were told they could go home and then come back at 1 pm. We later learned technicians had been brought in later that morning, and they had determined the SD cards in the two VCMs had to be replaced.
By 1 pm, still only one machine was working, and voters who were assigned to the two other clusters with the defective SD cards were being told they could: (1) shade their ballots and leave it in the care of election officials who would feed them into the machines at a later time, or (2) wait for the replacement cards so they themselves could feed their ballots into the VCMs, and see the receipts besides.
Many chose to just get the voting over and done with, and for a host of reasons. But many opted to wait, too, for the satisfaction and assurance of seeing their receipts reflecting their vote. At that time, they did not yet know they would wait for so long.
At 5 pm, we joined the “willing to waits” and lined up according to our assigned precincts at the covered parking area beside our barangay hall. Mercifully, there were chairs, and I remembered to bring a tumbler and a big anahaw fan. As the afternoon gave way to dusk, the tension began to escalate. Those who had been there since morning were becoming irate, their frustration and uncertainty aggravated by the humidity of the summer afternoon. People demanded feedback on when exactly the SD cards would arrive, and whether the Comelec had been duly informed of what was happening.
No answers were given, just that we were supposed to wait.
At 7 pm, we were told we could still vote so long as we were in the vicinity of the precinct gate. A technician – he said he worked part-time with the Comelec during elections but his day job was running a pares and tapsilog joint in Caloocan – arrived to say the SD cards were “in the NCR already.” And then, “in QC already.” Seven pm became 9 became 10 became 11 – and only then did the SD cards arrive. The technicians went to work configuring them. More waiting.
After midnight, we were told: one machine was ok, but the other – rotten luck, the one assigned to us – now had to be replaced.
At past 1 am, my family made a call to stop waiting and to finally vote. Nobody could tell us what time the new VCM would arrive (I later learned from a poll watcher that it had arrived at 10:30 later that morning, with some 15 voters waiting to the end). We were told we could rest assured that there would be many eyes watching the mass feeding of the ballots into the machine.
My children and I got home at 2 am, took the obligatory index-finger-with-indelible-ink shot, and disappeared into our respective rooms. I took a long shower and went to bed, feeling so exhausted that I could sleep for the next six years.
Days later, when the results per barangay were posted online, we felt gratified that the presidential, vice presidential, and senatorial candidates we had voted for did win overwhelmingly, in stark contrast to the national outcome. It’s a small consolation, but in our neck of the woods, it was worth it, after all.
This was not what happened to most other voters. According to the Commission on Elections, more than 1,800 VCMs malfunctioned on election day, a small percentage of the 96,981 units set for use. It was just unfortunate that it happened to us. Looking at the bigger picture, what we went through was the exception, not the rule. On the whole, despite the delays and the heat and the confusion, and no matter how we felt about the results, our nation was able to elect a new set of leaders.
The experience, however, led me – as it did many others, I am sure – to ponder some points.
Foremost, each of us should protect our votes as much as we can, whatever the odds. The ways are many: Being discerning and discriminating of the candidates wooing us. Keeping ourselves informed. Rejecting lies and half-truths. Voting is a duty but also a right, and no one should take it away from us. Our vote may be one in tens of millions, but it is unique and sacred nonetheless.
Second, it is always important to ask why, and when an answer is given, to ask why yet again. Go into the roots of the problem, and find out what is being done to address it. Know when officials are bluffing, or spewing BS, or are equally clueless. This is how we hold officials to account – by letting them know we are watching.
Still, shading the circle opposite the name of my candidate at 1:45 am on May 10, when the initial count was showing trends, was heartbreaking. Paano pa ilalaban kung may nanalo na?
“Willing to wait” is a question asked of customers of fast food chains, when their order is not on hand and would take longer to make. The answer depends on how much the customer wants that burger, or that chicken, or that pie.
On Election Day 2022, we waited because we wanted to safeguard our votes that badly.
We want many other things badly. We are hungry for good governance, honesty, and decency in government, leaders who truly respect, hear, and feel us, and people who can contemplate a better life for themselves and their children. We are hungry for information that does not confuse, deceive, or divide us.
We won’t wait passively. We will do something, however small, one day, one step at a time, inching toward that aim.
We grieve and rest, and then we get up to live another day. The campaign, noisy and acrimonious as it was, stirred something in us. The election, however we experienced it, only fueled our desire to be counted, to participate, to be heard, and to call out officials who feel entitled to their post as if it were their birthright, forgetting they are supposed to be public servants in the first place.
Our nation’s political maturity and awakening might be long in coming, but oh, yes, we are willing to wait. – Rappler.com
Adelle Chua was an opinion writer and editor for Manila Standard for 15 years. She is an assistant professor at the UP College of Mass Communication-Department of Journalism.