Candidates Win Unopposed, But Who Loses? (Part 3 of 3)
What could be done to address the issue of unopposed candidacies? What interventions could eliminate any situation where voters would not be given choices?
Better accounting of votes. To better understand how voters treat lone candidates, the Commission on Elections should change the way it computes the votes obtained by these candidates. Currently lone candidates receive 100 percent of the vote, though this is in fact not the case.
Since there are many positions to be voted for, voters may cast a vote for all positions or they could abstain from casting a vote for some. For example, a voter may vote for district representative but may choose not to vote for any of the mayoral candidates.
The percentage of voters who cast a vote for a particular elective position is referred to as “fill-up rate for the position”, a term coined by the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections in 1986. If there are 100 voters and only 75 cast a vote for district representative then the FRP for that position is 75 percent. For lone candidacies, the inverse of the FRP, which is also the abstention rate, would show the percentage of voters who would rather abstain from voting than cast a vote for that candidate. By reporting FRPs we would see that the lone candidate could receive less than 100 percent of the vote and, therefore, could show the strength of their mandate.
The Insights Group proposes to the COMELEC that votes obtained by candidates, lone or otherwise, should be computed as the total number of voters who voted divided by the number of votes received by a lone candidate or by all the candidates for the post.
To compute the FRP for the senate race and the contests for provincial board members and city/town councilors where there are more than one to be elected, the formula would be the total number of votes received by all candidates divided by the total number of voters.
Reporting fill-up rates and abstentions. Reporting of fill-up rates and abstentions would provide voters and candidates a better understanding of the electoral contest. A high FRP or a low abstention would mean that voters are interested in voting for the position and on the candidates vying for the post. A low FRP or a high abstention could mean that voters do not bother much about the position or they were not pleased with the choices of candidates presented before them.
Requiring parties to field candidates. Political parties are the main sources of candidates. In 2019, 76 percent of candidates registered under a political party. In order to ensure that there is competition, national political party registered with the COMELEC should be required to compete in at least 80 percent of all the elective positions. If it is a regional or provincial party, it should also be required to compete in all elective posts in the region or in the province.
There is no such law at this time, but the Insight Group believes that this should be looked into after the 2022 election. The Group also believes that the same law should provide incentives for parties in order to comply. Such support could be in the form of State-provided funding to set-up and maintain a party institute that would recruit, train, and prepare would-be candidates on governance, public finance and administration, etc.
No elections for lone candidacies. If at the close of the filing of candidacies, there is only one candidate for a position, then elections for that position should not be held and a new call for candidates should be initiated. This would signal to the candidates that voters should always be given a choice.
A law needs to be passed for this to be in effect and the Insights Group would look into this after the 2022 elections. This could be a topic where electoral stakeholders could congregate around and recommend to Congress.
Setting a threshold for mandate. If a mandate of a candidate falls below 30 percent, meaning that less than 30 percent of those who came out to vote cast a vote for the position, a run-off election would be held. But only for the top two candidates who received the most votes. Run-off elections are common in many countries, and the rationale is to ensure that the elected gets a strong mandate. The winner of the run-off election between two candidates would always be the majority winner or the one who has at least 50 percent of the votes plus one. Unless of course if there is a tie, which is quite seldom but not improbable. From the election law, ties are settled by a coin toss.
The Insights Group hopes to bring this to the attention of the electoral stakeholders in the meantime for possible policy reform be it in our statutes or the constitution.