Before boarding my Philippine Airlines flight to San Francisco last Sunday night, a document inspector at the Centennial Airport in Manila, upon learning that I'm a journalist, asked if I was covering the U.S. presidential elections. I stopped momentarily before saying "no". It was only then that I realized that I'd be in America for what is probably the country's most important election in recent times.
I was actually headed to the U.S. to cover a technology conference and it so happened that the event was being held alongside the elections. Nice timing.
As I write this blog entry a few hours midway into the voting process, Barack Obama seems poised to become the first African-American president of the world's remaining--but severely weakened--superpower. I honestly think that an Obama presidency is good and significant for America and the world, but I won't go too much into that.
Rather, as someone who has followed the seemingly hopeless computerization of elections in the Philippines, I regard my presence here on election day as a wonderful chance to personally witness how this nation--which the Philippines always tries to emulate--conducts its automated polls.
Americans have got so used to having high-tech elections that they no longer pay much attention to it, although a couple of TV news broadcast reported about a minor confusion that resulted in the use of new voting machines in some parts of California.
A CNN viewer, in fact, complained to the network why voters still had to queue in polling precincts when almost any activity can now be done online. "I shop online, bank online, and communicate online. Why do I have to line up in precincts just to vote? Give me a break!" he said.
That guy actually has a point. The U.S., home to some of the planet's largest technology companies, is not perfect after all. Voting online is not such a bad idea, provided of course, the necessary security measures are put into place.
One amusing thing I've also observed about the U.S. is the way they poke fun at their top government officials, including the much-maligned outgoing president, George W. Bush. Election jokes were all over television in the days leading to the big day, with late-night shows leading the charge. NBC's Saturday Night Live (SNL) even staged a special "presidential bash" that featured political impersonators like Tina Fey a.k.a. Sarah Palin.
Even here at the DreamForce user and developer conference, Salesforce.com chief Marc Benioff couldn't resist throwing some witty remarks on the candidates. He even started the event's second day with a hilarious video of a Bush impersonator who made the audience scream with laughter.
While many of the participants here, even in the whole of California, are obviously pro-Obama, a few of the people I've spoken to said neither Obama nor John McCain have sufficiently addressed nor divulged their plans for the tech sector. "All they've been talking about is Joe the plumber. What about Joe the programmer?" one speaker here asked.
The next president, whether it'd be Obama or McCain, has a question to answer.