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March 01, 2010

Philippine Roundtables Focus on Ensuring Fair Automated Elections

March 2010        

On May 10, 2010, the Philippines will hold the first fully automated elections in Southeast Asia. While it can contribute to a fair and transparent vote count, this new technology also poses significant challenges. Unresolved implementation problems, such as lack of contingency plans and voter confusion, could undermine public confidence and tip a heated contest into civil disorder.

With U.S. Agency for International Development funding, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) are helping the Philippine judiciary prepare to address public concerns and to solve possible election disputes quickly and fairly.

ABA ROLI and IFES coordinated with Libertas—an association of Filipino lawyers advocating for fair elections—to conduct a series of roundtable discussions with international experts. ABA ROLI invited Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson, who helped adjudicate the high-profile Senate election dispute between Norm Coleman and Al Franken, while IFES brought noted election law expert John Hardin Young to share their expertise on poll automation and related legal challenges. The experts said that the standards and rules that will govern potential election issues need to be determined before Election Day.

Referring to the 2000 U.S. presidential election dispute in Florida, Young said, “The case was elevated to the High Court because there were no specific and clear standards governing election contests and recounts.” He also urged trial lawyers to be “guardians of democracy that guarantee an election outcome representative of the people’s will.”

Anderson explained how the election standards and rules established in Minnesota minimized arguments over the facts of the case and helped judges come to an acceptable legal resolution. He said, “If preparations are made ahead of time, election disputes become epic battles that end graciously with the confidence of the people and trust of the system instilled.”

The first event, which was attended by leaders from the Philippine Commission on Elections and the Philippine Judicial Academy, focused on the commission’s and the academy’s role in preparing adjudicators to handle election-related disputes. The second event covered the role of practitioners and the importance of understanding the procedural rules of automated elections, including handling of pre-proclamation controversies and presentation of evidence. The third event, which was attended by civil society representatives and other election stakeholders, focused on voter education.

In her keynote address, Leila de Lima, chair of the Commission on Human Rights, said, “Vigilance of each and every individual to ensure fair and honest elections will guard the frail link of accountability between the public officials and the public, and pave the way for a new government leadership that values the principles of our democracy and human rights.” Teresita Dy-Liacco Flores, a retired Court of Appeals justice, said the roundtables will help the practitioners emphasize cooperation and transparency in resolving possible disputes. Flores said that practitioners should stay vigilant on Election Day.

Anderson and Young also met with Justice Reynato S. Puno, the Philippine chief justice, and Senator Francis Escudero, chair of the Senate Oversight Committee on Poll Automation, to discuss poll automation efforts. Issues discussed in the roundtables were incorporated into the draft regulations that will govern election litigation and disputes.

To learn more about our work in the Philippines, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at <[email protected]>.