Here’s a compromise solution for the automation of the 2016 elections that hopefully would satisfy BOTH those who truly believe that OMR (Optical Mark Recognition) technology—under which PCOS (Precinct Count Optical Scan) falls—is the right system for Philippine elections and those who believe that the right system is a combination of manual precinct counting and automated canvassing.
In 2016, Comelec plans to open 120,000 clustered precincts (instead of only the 80,000 in 2010 and 2013) in order to reduce the average number of voters per precinct and therefore unclog the queueing on Election Day.
In 2012, Comelec bought 82,000 units of PCOS from Smartmatic. Let us assume that only 60,000 units are still workable today and that the rest would require major repairs. The other 60,000 precincts will therefore need to be equipped with some kind of automation in order that data from the Election Returns can be transmitted electronically to the canvassing points. In effect, half of the precincts will use PCOS and the other half will manually count the votes. All 120,000 precincts will, however, have to electronically transmit the Election Returns data in the common format that is acceptable to the canvassing software.
What needs to be done?
For the “PCOS precincts”: No need to buy additional units. OMR ballots, however, will have to be preprinted with the candidates’ names.
For the “manual precincts”, there are two options: 1) purchase a laptop or PC and a printer for each of them (approximately P1.2 billion); OR, 2) purchase a tablet, a printer, and an LCD projector (approximately P1.2 billion). Ordinary ballots, as in the old days, are all that’s needed. Because the teachers will have to count manually, THEIR ALLOWANCES SHOULD BE DOUBLED.
For the whole process, it is important that the Comelec bid out the project management, as it does not have enough skilled people in its organization. Bidding should be limited to Filipino companies, of course. It is odd that we have been exporting IT expertise for decades, yet in a very sensitive government project, we opted to also give the project management contract to the foreign hardware vendor. The Comelec can actually appoint one company (systems integrator) for every region, or one for every group of regions.
PCs and servers will have to be purchased for the Consolidation and Canvassing System.
What are the advantages of this approach?
1. No new technology need to be introduced. Even the tablet/projector combo merely complements the manual system (the official one) to make the process more transparent.
2. We would be able to prove what many of us believe to be the best system for the automation of Philippine elections, without having to completely discard the PCOS that we have purchased. We can simply phase them out over another one or two elections.
3. It is much, much cheaper. Yet, better.
4. All purchased equipment can be passed on to the public schools which hosted voting centers. No storage and maintenance expenses therefore need be incurred. A new set of equipment (latest models) can be purchased every three years.
What about the bidding for the DRE (Direct Recording Electronic) System? Didn’t the Comelec want to try out new technologies? Frankly, we should not even bother with this. Even if it works, we cannot be sure it counted correctly. DRE (touch screen) is the LEAST TRANSPARENT among the election technologies available today. It requires multiple units per precinct; it will mean additional training for the voters; and it is many times more expensive. We will most likely not adopt this system, so I can’t understand why the Comelec and its Advisory Council even considered it. Trying it out is a waste of money. Millions of pesos of our money will be thrown away just to show that the Comelec is trying out a new technology. The wrong one, I must say; it’s the technology that’s being discarded in other countries.
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Just as an aside: I know of a Rotary Club that provides a P22-breakfast for 100 public elementary school pupils every school day for 22 weeks (one semester). This is the Club’s response to the fact that “a hungry child won’t learn.” Every billion that we can save from useless expenses—like those of Comelec’s—can provide 400,000 pupils healthy breakfasts for one semester.