#TheFilipinoDecides2016: The Fault in Our (Voting) System


What do these numbers mean for each candidate?

What do these numbers mean for each candidate?

AFTER CASTING your ballot at your precinct, you glued in to the results on television when the polls are closed. You watched closely the figures on where your vote belongs on but many voters don’t know how their votes will go.

On this #TheFilipinoDecides2016 post, we will tackle in on voting systems.

What makes a voting system?

A voting system (or electoral system) consists of the sets rules on the format of the ballot, the validity of the vote, the manner of counting and the interpretation of results on who is/are the winner(s) of the election.

The 6 voting systems

In this article, we will tackle six voting systems — categorized into two based on the number of winners — that does need political parties. This limitation and justification is based on the reality of national politics that every political party’s inner mechanism is chaotic with rampant party-switching every election season, of which we should realize that the multi-party system is considered meaningless. We didn’t include some mathematical voting systems such as Borda count or Condorcet method.

Single-winner voting systems

  • First Past the Post. This voting system is currently employed in choosing executive positions (President, Vice President, Governor, Vice Governor, Mayor and Vice Mayor) in different levels and your geographical district representative in the House of Representatives. Voters simply choose one candidate and the candidate with the most votes wins; they don’t need a majority of votes to get elected into their office. However, the common fault in this system is that a disliked candidate can win with two or more similar candidates (vote splitting). In the hypothetical situation on the coming election, most Filipinos are disgusted of incumbent Vice President Jejomar Binay’s ambitious plan to seek the presidency, despite of issues in Makati City as mayor back then. However, the anti-Binay citizens are divided into factions of  his opponents: those who favor Miriam Santiago, Mar Roxas, Grace Poe or Rodrigo Duterte. Come that day, their votes will probably be wasted (disenfranchised) for their lost cause.
  • Alternative Vote. This voting system is currently employed in electing their Members of House of Representatives in the Parliament of Australia and some mayors in U.S. cities. Voters can choose their back-up candidates (2nd, 3rd, and so on) or just leave it with one candidate. The count may be a bit longer because a winner must be declared if a majority of votes have been reached; if they didn’t reach it, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated. However, the common fault in this system is that a least “evil” or the compromise candidate that finished on the third in a three-way race on the first count would be eliminated.
  • Two-Round System. As the name implies, there will be two rounds of voting. In both rounds, voters have to choose one candidate and whoever gets a majority of votes wins the election. The common flaw to the system is that it will spend more in campaigning time and money and COMELEC would spend more than it’s budgetary requirement.
  • Approval Voting. This is said to be the most honest, easy and quick voting system. It gives a voter to choose one or more candidates who are suitable for one position. The common drawbacks are that (1) a simple majority for one candidate will lose to another candidate with a better majority and (2) it can confuse tabulators on find the number of voters and the results.

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Multiple-winner voting systems

  • Plurality At-Large (Block) Voting. Currently used in choosing Senators, Provincial Board Members and Councilors, this voting system is used to elect certain number of elected positions. In the viewpoint of the voters, it’s easy to understand and the interpretation of the results happened quickly. However, the two flaws of the current voting system are: (1) in order to secure their seats, candidates will have to focus on the vote-rich areas to support them; and (2) under-voting would make disliked candidates win. The second flaw happened in the last senatorial election (2013); with an average of 7 senators out of 12 per every voter turned out in the polls, one of the disliked and inexperienced candidate, Nancy Binay, effectively wins the Senate seat (5th place).
  • Single Transferable Voting (STV). Currently used in choosing Members of Parliament in Ireland, voters ranked their candidate as they wish. In this voting system, they have a distinguished cap to secure their seat: a quota. There are two quota calculations to choose from: Hare or Droop. This limit would make the count and the results last longer but in the end, the results would reflect on the electorate’s balance and perspective of representation. Minorities will be heard on STV. However, another flaw of STV aside from the quota and longer time to count and to declare is that the ballot papers, depending on the candidates and positions, would be too big to print and too difficult to handle. If we used it hypothetically for the national Senate elections, the results will last for few weeks instead of within a week.

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Now that we wrap up the voting system, the Turf thinks we are done… oh wait… we forget the missing piece that we kicked in, the other 20% of the members of the House of Representatives: the sectoral representatives.


Sectoral representative election, in detail

Presently, sectoral representatives are elected directly by the people by choosing one party-list (PL) group. If a PL was able to get at least 2% of the national vote, the group will guarantee one seat in the incoming Congress in the House of Representatives. However, they are limited up to three seats.

The seat limit hindered the genuine definition of proportional representation or as Ateneo De Manila University mathematics professor Felix Muga II puts to it that, “Any seat allocation formula that imposes a seat-capping mechanism on the party-list proportional representation voting system contradicts the social justice provision of the 1987 Constitution.”

Back then, sectoral representation was used to be appointed by the President — with confirmation from the Commission on Appointments — until the 1995 election. President Fidel V. Ramos signed the Party-List System Act (Republic Act 7941) on March 3, 1995, pursuant to the mandate of Article VI, Section 5 (2) of the Constitution. The first directly elected PL election was held in 1998.

During the manual mode of election (1998-2007), less than a majority of voters who turn out on the polls cast a ballot on the party-list because of too many contested groups that can be forgettable for them. Beginning in 2010, the majority of the voters who turnout was finally reached due to the automation where all contesting PLs are printed on one ballot paper and the recognition of their corresponding numbers to convincingly shade on.

The Supreme Court overruled the provisions of the Party List Act on allocation in 2000 but the present allocation in PL seats were devised after the superseding BANAT vs. COMELEC ruling in 2009.

The Supreme Court overruled the provisions of the Party List Act on allocation in 2000 but the present allocation in PL seats were devised after the superseding BANAT vs. COMELEC ruling in 2009.

On allocation of seats, COMELEC usually have the final say on an en banc session on or after Election Day but it can theoretically be done using a spreadsheet application but it’s really a complicated story. In their inception in 1998, 51 seats for PLs were up for grabs but as the “2-4-6%” rule was in effect, the election ended up announcing 13 representatives (an underhang of 38 or 75% of the PL seats unfilled). Because of this, on October 6, 2000, the Supreme Court’s ruling on VFP et al. vs. COMELEC , declared that the “2-4-6%” rule unconstitutional and decided to change the method. On the SC ruling, they tried to employ a Niemeyer formula, similar to those in Germany’s Bundestag (their parliament), but the 3-seat cap limit for each group hindered it from an in toto application. Hence, they ended up declaring 39 seats. This ruling continues to apply on the next three legislative elections (2001-07) but to no avail, majority of PL seats remain vacant. Because of this, another SC ruling, BANAT vs. COMELEC (2009), called the 2% threshold unconstitutional but the 3-seat cap and 20% composition of the House remained upheld.

The present methodology under the 2009 ruling began goes:

  1. One (1) guaranteed seat for every PLs with 2% of the national vote,
  2. The difference of PL seats up for grabs and guaranteed seats will be multiplied by the percentage of votes each PL gets,
  3. The product from the difference and the percentage will add to the guaranteed seat for each PL (disregarding decimals),
  4. If the sum of a PL reaches 4, the seats to be declared as such shall remain 3,
  5. Excess PL seats are given to other PLs who failed to reach the guaranteed seat threshold and mixed numbers.
One of the reasons why some Filipino voters do not elect party-lists: Breeding ground of socialist or left-wing politics.

One of the reasons why some Filipino voters do not still choose a party-list: Breeding ground for socialist or left-wing politicians.

However, some voters decided not to vote for party lists due to two common reasons:

  1. The huge number of participating PL groups consumed the most of the ballot paper, creating voter’s confusion, and
  2. Voter’s fear that party lists are used as a breeding ground of socialist politics (e.g. Bayan Muna, Kabataan, Gabriela, etc.)



Finally, that ends the discussion on the electoral system for real. Remember, no electoral system is indeed perfect; there are pros and cons to each system. The weighing that we discussed should also apply to contesting candidates in different elected positions.

P.S. If you’re getting confused with this article, I suggest watching C.G.P. Grey’s election videos on YouTube; it’s more approaching and easy.

Timow’s Turf would like to thank C.G.P.Grey and Electoral Reform Society (UK) for referential research of this post. Go ahead and check them out.

Engage the discussion on Facebook and Reddit.

[Photos courtesy of: Rappler/Philippine Daily Inquirer/BBC]


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