It's easy to blame the poor, the masses for voting into power devious politicians, the corrupt, those with no track record, political dynasties based on money, survey results, name recognition or who has the most giveaways. But take a look at the number of decisions that have to be made when you go vote in an election (let's say it's also a presidential election so that we have a complete view):
- You need to choose a president out of maybe 6-8 candidates
- You need to choose a vice president out of maybe 6-8 candidates
- You need to choose 12 senators from a pool of 20-30 or more candidates
- You need to choose a congressman from maybe 4-6 candidates
- You need to choose a governor (I'm from Metro Manila, we don't have a guvnor so I'm just guessing here) from maybe 3-5 candidates
- You need to choose a mayor from maybe 3-5 candidates
- You need to choose a vice mayor from maybe 3-5 candidates
- You need to choose god knows how many councilors (I seriously have no idea, is it 6?) from who knows how many candidates
- You need to choose a party-list from over a hundred choices
In order to "vote wisely", for each of those choices, you'd need to have some idea of who they are, what their background is, what their advocacies are, what their stand is on the issues, what bills they have pushed/sponsored/passed (if they had previous legislative experience), etc. For all of those candidates! I live a comfortable life and have a reasonable amount of free time and even I don't want to do that! Not to mention that unlike me, a very, very large percentage of the voting population don't have easily available internet access so that they can do their own research on candidates' backgrounds. They're not on Facebook all the time reading about Nancy's shenanigans or how Jack Enrile doesn't want you to look closely at a murder rap in his history. They're too busy with more mundane everyday concerns like how to earn money, where they're going to get food to feed their large families, etc. They just don't have the time, inclination or opportunity to soak up all the relevant information that would let them make an informed choice.
So what do they do, they do what any regular, sane person does when faced with an overwhelming amount of information, they use filters. But their filters are silly things like survey results ("Other people think this candidate is okay, so I guess I can vote for him"), celebrity endorsements (it's sad that former Sen. Jun Magsaysay only got a bump in survey results when he got Sir Chief to endorse him) or worse things like bribery, vote buying through giveaways, etc.
What am I saying, what am I talking about? All this time I've been harping about how voter education is important, but how it's delivered needs to be thought about. We can't just flood people with information, they're just going to be overwhelmed and the silly yet simpler things like inane political ads are going to win out. We need to, I dunno, find a way to provide better, easier filters for people. I don't know how, I'm not that smart. Not yet.
"But Roy," I can hear you objecting already, "elections are serious business deciding the future of our country! It's important, and they should take it seriously and think very hard about their choices!" You're absolutely right that it's important, but the problem is that for a vast majority of poor people, they have a lot of other more important, more urgent things to worry about. Elections affect what happens to our country three, five, ten years down the road, but a lot of people have trouble figuring out how they're going to get through the next day. The feedback loop for getting results from elections is just too long for people to take it seriously. Now, we can suggest that maybe, just maybe, we can just ask those people not to vote if they're not going to take it seriously? Maybe, but that's hardly enforceable in any reasonable way. And you're going to get accused of being anti-democracy or whatever.
"It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." -- William Churchill.
I don't have a solution, I'm just rambling. Maybe this is really how it's supposed to work, democracy? We live with what the people choose, even if they're bad choices. Democracy is very effective at a small scale ("Guys let's vote on where we should have dinner!") but I feel like the logistics of it all gets way way more difficult as we scale up to the level of an entire country. Maybe smarter people than me have proposed solutions, I dunno, comment and give me links if you know of them. Who are the best democracies in the world and how do they get away with it? Certainly not the United States with their two-party system and their lobbyists and what not.
Although now that I think about it, it might help if we reduce the number of choices that would need to be made. The simplest changes are to have president/VP be voted in together, same for mayor/vice mayor, and to have regional senators instead of national so that each person only needs to choose one senator (this has the pleasant side effect of reducing the amount of money needed to win a senate seat). I have no solution for party-list, I'd rather have it be removed if no solution can be found
And we need to start thinking about these things even outside of the electoral cycle (probably a bit hypocritical of me, I only post about election stuff during the election season). Going about ways to improve the next elections need to start as soon as the last elections end. Sometimes I feel like the Comelec has crammed a lot of stuff into the past year or so (registration, source code audits, rulings on party-lists, etc.) Why can't we ask candidates to register 3 years before the election? That way voters have a lot more time to become familiar with them and the candidates are forced to flesh out long-term plans instead of making excuses that they don't have time for debates.
Okay, I complain a lot, but I'm still going to vote. I'm not one of those people who complains but won't vote. We should vote because (a) it's our responsibility and (b) it's an expression of what we as individuals desire to have in leaders of our country. And it's probably our responsibility to vote wisely too, though I'm not sure that's a rule encoded somewhere, the Comelec certainly doesn't emphasize it.
To be honest, I'm still not sure of which senators I'll be voting for, most of my slots are up in the air (although there are many candidates I'm surely NOT voting for). I'll probably finalize my choices the weekend before the elections, and as has been my tradition, I will post my choices in this space. I'm registered in a different district than where I'm currently residing so I don't vote for congressman and councilors, so my only choices this time around are the 12 senators and mayor/vice mayor of QC.