Remember the time when Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Andres Bautista declared that the poll body would use all new PCOS machines for the 2016 elections and the option to have the existing 81,869 PCOS machines repaired and refurbished was no longer feasible due to time constraints? That was on Aug. 13, 2015, or a mere nine months before the May 9, 2016 national and local elections.
The PCOS machines used in 2010 were purchased by the Comelec, which was then under the stewardship of Chairman Sixto Brillantes, justifying that the machines could be used until the 2019 elections. After the machines were used in the 2013 elections, it became necessary that the machines be repaired or refurbished or possibly upgraded. Smartmatic-TIM had tendered a proposal as early as Nov. 13, 2013 for the repair/refurbishment of the PCOS machines under an extended warranty scheme. It was only on Feb. 2, 2015 or 443 days after that Chairman Brillantes, just before retiring, signed the extended warranty contract with Smartmatic-TIM. The contract was challenged at the Supreme Court, which said in part that, “The services of repair and refurbishment cannot be procured from Smartmatic-TIM through an ‘extended warranty’ mode, unless this Court assents to a blatant circumvention of the procurement law.”
In fairness to the poll body under the leadership of Chairman Bautista, it merely inherited the repercussions of the previous leadership’s indecision: the Comelec is now stuck with the PCOS machines used in 2010 and 2013 and continues to spend public funds for storage!
The Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) of 2010 noted that the three-year national election cycle is too short for a project like the automation of elections. The project schedule in each of the last three elections went through several revisions while the automation project was in full swing. Lessons can be learned from this experience. The various activities and tasks from the identification of the most appropriate technology to procurement, to implementation and rollout, including the time required for completing each activity or task have already been identified.
Transmission of election returns from the vote counting machine involved an intermediate process of converting the election returns from one format to another.
Prior to the 2016 elections, two locally developed systems were demonstrated: the PATAS and the TAPAT. Shouldn’t Filipino-developed products be given preference and priority?
The Comelec should now start planning and organizing for the automation of the 2019 elections. Some of the things that can be done now are:
• Start working with the newly formed Department of Information and Communication Technology to convene the 2019 CAC. Aside from the lessons of the past, the 2019 CAC can offer a fresh perspective in automating the elections.
• Engage stakeholders, including critics, as it seeks to improve the conduct of automated elections.
• Assess all aspects of the AES experience in the 2010, 2013 and 2016 elections.
• Avoid falling into the trap of putting off decisions up to the last minute. Timely decisions ensure economic/financial efficiency.
• Assess its capacity and capability to engage in a project of great magnitude and complexity such as the automation of our elections.
• Assess its project management capability and capacity.
• Engage information and communication technology (ICT) and project management (PM) professionals and organizations as it seeks to develop and/or enhance is ICT and PM capacity and capability.
• Identify the risks that may impact the completion of each project activity to mitigate the risk of failure or delay and, thus, avoid having to revise the project schedule while it is in full swing.
• Develop the capacity and capability to implement and operate the AES independent of the AES vendor.
• Look into locally developed technologies and systems for automating elections.
• Avoid having to implement a system that involves intermediary processes to ensure credibility and integrity of election results.
• Adopt best practices and strictly implement standard protocols in operating the AES.
• Disclose all parts of the AES beyond the machines used for voting and the canvassing and consolidation system.
• Ensure unbridled review of the source code of the technology to be used at the earliest time possible.
• Decide what to do with the PCOS machines purchased after the 2010 elections.
The Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Election System should also convene to “conduct a comprehensive assessment and evaluation of the performance of the different AES technologies implemented” [Sec. 33 of RA8436 as amended by RA9369] in the national elections held in 2010, 2013 and 2016 and evaluate other technologies that may be used for the 2019 and subsequent elections.
Let’s face IT! The lessons of the past three elections can prove to be instructive. Looking into and assessing the experience of the past can help build a solid foundation for automating future elections.