Comelec already knows that Smartmatic’s PCOS system has a low accuracy rating. It already knows that the system has zero transparency. Accuracy and transparency are both basic requirements of the automation law. And dictated by common sense.
Smartmatic’s PCOS system, logically, should therefore no longer be an option.
What is so amazing and difficult to believe is that the Commission continues to espouse this system! Not only that. By delaying important decisions, the Commission (intentionally?) put itself in a situation where it feels (so the Commissioners say) that it has no other option but to get Smartmatic’s PCOS (or OMR) machines. That’s a lot of b___!
There are other options. And better ones, too. If Comelec would only do what other organizations normally do – that is, take a serious look at the options, the pros and cons of each option, then decide in as fair a manner as possible, devoid of biases.
Here’s one that’s easy to implement and used by many countries (the developed ones included):
1. Count the votes manually at the precinct level. This is still the most transparent among all vote-counting systems. The public sees – and understands — how the votes are counted. Automating this step removes the transparency and therefore puts into question the results of the entire process.
Improve the design of the ballots and the other precinct forms to speed up the counting a bit and lessen the possibility of errors in reading. Increase the number of precincts to even as many as 250,000. There were some 220,000 “unclustered” precincts,with a maximum of 200 voters per precinct, during the 2007 elections. Slow as it might be, manual counting only adds about 12 hours, often, even less, to the entire election process.
Because of the number of watchers at the precincts, even the cheating is exposed; the protest process is not impaired, as happens in automated precinct-counting. “Dagdag-bawas” is not a problem at the precinct level, as the numbers are still small and therefore not worth the cheating candidate’s efforts. It happens – and happens bigtime – during canvassing (consolidation) because of the long duration of this step … sometimes as long as 40 days. For this reason, canvassing must be automated!
There are people who say that there is too much human intervention in manual precinct-counting. These people probably do not know that what counts the votes in an automated system is software …that’s written by humans. In fact, it is much easier to cheat in secret—and automated – counting, than in public counting. We know this to have happened, not so much in 2010, but surely in the 2013 elections.
While it is true that many teachers do not want the rigorous manual counting anymore, they can be persuaded to do so again for the sake of credible and transparent elections. For the sake of democracy. Teachers, by nature, are very ethical.
But they must be compensated properly. Perhaps, double the budget for allowances. Savings from the non-use of PCOS will run in the billions of pesos anyway. I’m sure all of us would rather see taxpayer money going to our teachers rather than to a foreign machine vendor.
If there are not enough teachers, then deputize other government employees. There are many countries where election precincts are manned by private individuals.
2. Using a laptop, encode the Election Returns (ERs) so they can be transmitted electronically …after making sure that the encoding is error-free, of course. Again, there are people who, out of ignorance, will say that this automated process is yet untried and would therefore violate R.A. 9369. This cannot be farther from the truth. This process is the most common step in almost all computerized systems all over the world.
A printer connected to the laptop can also take care of printing the required 30 copies of the ER.Total cost of laptops and printers: approximately P3 billion. Much less if there will only be 200,000 precincts.
3. Automate the canvassing – from the Municipal Board of Canvassers, to the Provincial Board of Canvassers, to the National Board of Canvassers. This will only require the installation of ordinary (computer) servers and laptops, the total cost of which may not even reach P300 million. Add projectors in the canvassing centers to make the process more transparent.
4. Sophistications can be incorporated into the system to make it more transparent and with tighter controls, but those can be discussed and added later.
Logistics will cost more because of the number of precincts to deliver to. Ballots will, however, cost a lot less. They will be less than half the length of PCOS ballots and they will use lower-substance paper.
All the equipment – laptops, printers, projectors – can be donated to public schools after each election, thus eliminating the expenses for warehousing and maintenance. Remember that maintenance and refurbishing of the 80,000 PCOS units were quoted at P1.7 billion. That alone represents more than half of what it would cost to buy a new set of laptops and printers for the next election.
Preparation time is much less. The Comelec can even revert to the original deadline for the filing of Certificates of Candidacy. That would be January, 2016. The software can all be ready in three months … maybe less. All computer programs can be made public, but secure. Training on the use of laptops is simple. The suppliers might even throw that in. Or, computer schools might be willing to do it at very nominal costs.
But one last word … the Comelec Commissioners must stop listening to the pro-Smartmatic congressmen, the pro-Smartmatic employees who are suspected of being members of the Comelec syndicate, and even the pro-Smartmatic top officials of some NGOs.
Sana’y magising na ang mga Commissioners sa katotohanan.