Touchscreen voting not transparent, poll body told
THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) may abandon a planned pilot-testing of a touchscreen voting system or Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) technology in Pateros, Metro Manila for the 2016 elections as some lawmakers and information technology experts criticize the system for being expensive and less transparent.
If it will do away with the DRE testing, the poll body will have no choice but to use the existing Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines.
Acting Comelec Chairman Christian Robert Lim, during a recent hearing of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Elections System (JCOC-AES), said the poll body can still cancel the pilot-testing of the DRE technology since the contract for the supply of DRE machines has not been awarded.
Sen. Aquilino Pimentel 3rd, chairman of the joint panel, asked Lim about the possibility of shelving the touchscreen voting in 2016 and use PCOS or the transparent and credible election system (TCrES), which is being pushed by various election watch groups and Filipino IT experts.
Pimentel believes that it would be best if the Comelec abandoned its plan to pilot-test the use of the touchscreen voting technology and instead use the PCOS machines in all voting areas.
He noted that if the Comelec wanted to test the DRE system, it should be unofficial and the cost should be shouldered by suppliers.
The Comelec, upon recommendation of its Advisory Council, decided to pilot-test the DRE technology in Pateros.
The council said the poll body can test one or more secondary voting technologies provided that these inter-operate with the canvassing system and give preference to Filipino-developed technologies.
The poll body plans to lease some 410 DRE for the testing, which will cost around P31.2 million.
But there was only one bidder that expressed interest in the DRE contract.
The Comelec has set a March 30 deadline for interested contractors to buy bid documents.
Lim gave assurances that the Comelec can provide Pateros a number of PCOS machines in case the DRE voting will not push through.
Former Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman also questioned the decision of the poll body to pilot-test the more expensive DRE technology.
Lagman said there is no logic in testing this technology because it is more expensive than PCOS and is the least transparent among all voting systems.
Representatives of different poll watch groups have criticized the Comelec for choosing to test a foreign technology when a similar system can be developed by Filipino IT experts.
A DRE technology unit costs around P60,000 while a unit of PCOS costs P90,000. But unlike PCOS, a DRE unit can only be used by 100 voters.
A unit of PCOS, on the other hand, can serve an entire clustered precinct, which could have 400 registered voters.
During the hearing, Pimentel assured advocates of the TCrES that the joint congressional committee will study the possibility of pilot-testing the TCrES technology, a hybrid election system that uses both manual and electronic canvassing.
Under the TCrES, voting and precinct counts will be done manually but an improved design of Tally Sheet forms and Election Returns will be used.
Results will then be encoded and verified and the precinct results will be electronically transmitted to the Municipal Board of Canvassers and the Central Verification Server. It will then be followed by the automated consolidation and canvassing of votes at the municipal, provincial and national levels.
Meanwhile, to promote transparency, Pimentel asked the Comelec to allow Filipino IT experts to observe how technology provider Smartmatic is undertaking the diagnostic testing and repair of 80,000 PCOS machines to be used in the next local and national polls.
The Comelec earlier awarded to Smartmatic the diagnostic testing and repairs of the PCOS machines for P268.8 million despite objections from various sectors.
The poll body admitted that it will not be able to follow its original time line for the issuance of the notice of award for the acquisition of 23,000 additional PCOS machines to augment the 82,000 machines in its inventory after the first bidding was declared a failure.
The Comelec was supposed to issue a notice of award for the additional machines this month but because the first bidding failed, the poll body will have to conduct a second bidding and has set the new date of awarding, May 18.
The bidding for additional PCOS or OMR and new DRE units was declared a failure after the Comelec-BAC disqualified Smartmatic-TIM and Indra Sistemas.
With such delays, Lim said the poll body has shortened the system customization period for the PCOS machines from six months to four months and limited the source code review scheduled for May 15.
“This means the winning bidder will have to comply with customization requirement for only four months,” he noted.
The source code review for the additional PCOS, Lim said, was moved to June 15.