In the News: Trendsetting

Traditionally, the results of Philippine national and local elections were not available until several weeks after the day of the election.  While the votes were being counted manually, candidates exchanged charges of vote-padding and vote-shaving (dagdag-bawas) and other forms of cheating, marring the credibility of our elections.

The 2010 elections saw the implementation of an automated election system.  New precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines that would count votes electronically were heralded as the solution to the Philippines’ election woes. The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) even declared that the election results would be available only several hours after the voting, thereby minimizing the risk of election cheating.

True enough, the COMELEC began publishing the results as early as the evening immediately following the election.  The polls closed at 7:00 p.m. of May 10, and by 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. of the same day, tallies showing that millions of votes had been counted were published by the COMELEC through the media.  Although the tallies were labeled as “partial, unofficial, uncanvassed” election results, the release of this information contributed greatly to the perception that the 2010 Philippine elections were generally clean and honest, and helped boost an uptick in the local markets.

Despite its earlier declaration that the results would be available within several hours, however, the release of the “unofficial” results slowed markedly in the days that followed.  Eventually, the COMELEC ceased to publish the results of its internal tally altogether, reportedly after having been put on notice by various candidates that such publication constituted a violation of applicable laws.  Some candidates alleged that by releasing “unofficial” results, the COMELEC was engaged in “trending,” or conditioning the public to believe that a particular candidate or set of candidates was winning.

Philippine law does not specifically define “trending,” but it is generally understood to mean “to turn in a specified direction.”  In the context of an election, “trending” can mean the phenomenon where the release of partial election results, or worse, selected election results  (showing that one candidate is leading), influences other voters who have not yet cast their votes.  Although theoretically, this could happen in the Philippines (e.g., where exit poll results are released in the middle of the day of the election), trending might be more relevant in countries that span more than one time zone, in cases where poll results are made available from one electoral district when another electoral district has not yet opened for voting.

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