: Vote-selling

29 October 2021

By Segundo Eclar Romero|

The reminder of Commission on Elections (Comelec) spokesperson James Jimenez that vote-buying is illegal fails to mention that the electorate, political parties, and candidates are confronted by this insidious practice because the Comelec has been unable to effectively curb or control rampant vote-buying and vote-selling.

Vote-buying is like climate change. The electorate and candidates adapt because the Comelec has failed to mitigate it.

There have been many celebrated cases of vote-buying in previous elections, but the Comelec has not given any credible demonstration to voters and candidates alike that vote-selling and vote-buying do not pay. It was reported that nearly one out of three Filipinos was offered money for his or her vote by some politician or local leader in the 2010 elections. In the May 2019 elections, the flurry of government anti-vote buying activities was too superficial. The Philippine National Police reported that they formed 105 teams tasked to address suspected vote-buying incidents nationwide. Special teams were deployed per district in Metro Manila and per province. All told, 174 people were said to have been arrested in connection with vote-buying from the election period Jan. 13 to May 10 of that year.

Is this the level of effort we will see again in the May 2022 elections? We would hope that Comelec-led strategizing and networking across government, the private sector, and the civil society sector is happening below the radar. All this should not be sub rosa, however. The Comelec should be in the business of confidence-building among the electorate. It must reassure the public that the concerns people have raised about the prospect of massive electronic vote-buying are being effectively addressed. The seven-hour glitch in the Comelec’s transmission and presentation of the results during the last elections remains unsatisfactorily explained in the public mind. The feeling of uncertainty that surrounds the May 2022 elections should be assuaged by better officiating and stewardship by the Comelec.

In the meantime, let us talk about vote-buying and vote-selling. How can we—the public, the electorate, the political parties, the candidates—collectively behave better? The current controversy is about whether we should advise the electorate to take the money and vote its conscience. There are some evidence-based insights that can be offered on this matter.

In 2013, Allen Hicken, Stephen Leider, Dean Yang (all from the University of Michigan), and Nico Ravanilla (University of California in San Diego) conducted a study called “Campaigns Against Vote-Selling in the Philippines: Do Promises Work?” In their study held close to the 2010 elections, 900 registered voters in Sorsogon City were shown a three-minute video that advocated going out to vote, voting for honest and competent candidates, and avoiding vote-selling. The respondents were then asked to rank the political candidates they preferred. Next, the respondents were randomly assigned to one of three groups and asked to follow the message for each group: (1) the “Promise not to take money” group, (2) the “Vote your conscience even if you take money” group, and (3) the “Watch video only” comparison group.

After the elections, the respondents were asked how they voted and the responses were compared with the initial preferences. Vote-switching was the proxy indicator for vote-selling.

Among those who made promises not to sell their votes, vote-selling decreased by 11 percent in the city council race where payments ranged from P20 to P100. In the mayoral race where payments were P250 to P500, there was no change in the rate of vote-selling or vote-switching. In other words, if large cash payments are offered, promises are not enough to curb vote-selling.

Telling voters that they could accept money but should still vote according to their conscience increased rather than decreased vote-selling in both the city council and mayoral races. Some 62 percent of respondents in the “conscience” group switched their vote at least once, compared to only 57 percent in the “comparison” group, and only 50 percent in the “promise” group.

The authors concluded that “these results suggest that simple interventions—such as asking voters to promise not to sell their vote—can help reduce vote-selling in small stakes elections where payments for votes are small. These results also suggest that telling voters they can accept money but should still vote according to their conscience may be counterproductive.”