THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) is keeping its options open on the possibility of using a semi-automated election system amid uncertainties on the availability of the controversial Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines for the 2016 elections.
The use of the PCOS machines was the subject of a temporary restraining order (TRO) issued recently by the Supreme Court (SC).
Former Comelec commissioner Gus Lagman, the project’s proponent, presented on Friday his brainchild to the commissioners and other observers, including former Comelec chairman Christian Monsod.
According to Lagman, his proposal, the Transparent and Credible Election System (TCRES), would cost the government some P4 billion, which is much cheaper if the Comelec asked Congress for a P14-billion supplementary budget for the purchase of new counting machines that would replace the 82,000 units of old PCOS machines.
He explained that TCRES is completely different in the sense that counting is still going to be manual, but simultaneous with the manual counting is a laptop count. Attached to the computer is a projector showing the progress of the counting on a big screen so people could see the counting process as it is happening.
“Because it’s [laptop count]simultaneously done with manual counting, election returns (ERs) can be printed by the laptop, eight copies as required by law, then transmit the ERs for canvassing. Since it is already in digital format it can be transmitted electronically without the need to encode the ERs,” Lagman said.
Lagman admitted though that there is no assurance that the system is 100 percent foolproof even as he pointed out that election cheating, like dagdag-bawas (vote-padding, vote-shaving) happens at the canvassing level, not at the precinct level.
“The system cannot assure that but the TCRES will improve the accuracy of the manual system. What we are weighing here is transparency against speed. Would you sacrifice transparency for speed?” he asked.
Lagman said the system might be slower by 12 to 24 hours compared to the PCOS but stressed that nobody knows how the latter counted the votes.
He noted that during the 2010 elections, 9 percent of PCOS failed to transmit and 23 percent during the 2013 polls.
“So, how were those votes counted? They said that they would be included in the canvassing but we never saw that,” Lagman said.
As to the legality of the system, he expressed belief that it is not against the law even as he pointed out that wordings in Republic Act 9369 do not mandate the Comelec but rather authorizes it to conduct full automated elections.
Commissioner Luie Tito Guia said his fellow commissioners are receptive to the idea but added that the poll body needed more time and more meetings to study Lagman’s proposal to thresh out various concerns.
“For the commission, it’s really exhausting the possibilities. But it does not mean that we are accepting it. At least we know that there is such system and this is how it works,” Guia said. “We will always welcome information and suggestion from anybody.”
Monsod said the Comelec is correct in trying to see the options that can accomplish its objectives and meet the demands of the public.
He added that what the voters want is efficiency and transparency in counting.
“Accuracy” of the counting is non-negotiable, Monsod said.