Sample ballots: Social Cancer

Senator Richard Gordon, presidential candidate of the Bagumbayan party, struck another blow against traditional Philippine politics (I guess) this weekend when he urged the Commission on Elections to ban the distribution and use of sample ballots with pre-shaded candidates’ entries.

Gordon says that unscrupulous persons could jam the invalid sample ballots into the voting machines, thus causing mischief, mayhem, and the tragic collapse of Asia’s show window of democracy.

democracy in a shambles

In that regard, Gordon is wrong. And not because we failed as a democracy long ago. The ballots will be scanned into the machine by Comelec-deputized public school teachers, and all voters have to do is shade the circles beside their candidates’ names.

He is right, though, that sample ballots endanger democracy (as well as the environment and public safety). But not because they make it easier to cheat. The threat is much more insidious. Sample ballots allow voters and candidates to become complacent.

Listen, it’s not like we’re asking the electorate to write down the 1987 Constitution word for word. All people have to do is examine each candidate, weigh their merits, and decide who deserves their vote.

Which, I guess, is a monumental task compared to just copying the names on the sample ballot given away by volunteers and poll watchers outside the polling precinct.

And that’s it exactly. What kind of sick, sad electorate needs a cheat sheet to vote? Do we really go, “Goddamn. I almost forgot to vote for that guy who proposed to raise spending on public services. It’s a good thing I have this sample ballot!”?

For that matter, what kind of candidates do we have that they have to resort to cheat sheets to get votes? Are their positions and platforms not memorable enough? Is their dancing so lackluster, their novelty-song repertoire so small, that they have to have lists printed up to remind people to vote for them?

Campaign posters now have, aside from the candidate’s name in big block letters and some corny-ass slogan like MAyOuR Dreams Come True!, their number on the list of candidates.

Now that's what I call democr-easy

Unless voters start taking responsibility for choosing their candidates, and that means taking the time to do research and ask the right questions, no number of yellow-ribbon stickers or orange check marks can ever bring true democracy.

Unless candidates actually take the time out to research, present, and defend their platforms and positions, and make themselves memorable, heroic, and goddamned deserving of people’s votes, this is all just musical chairs, and the music isn’t even all that good.

Until then, for all the voter-education programs and covenants of clean elections, we’ll all really just be voting for some name on a list. And, really, we deserve so much more than just ‘that guy.’

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