THE debate is on. Will it be PATaS or PCOS for 2016?
TransparentElection.org.ph, a group of IT professionals who had designed, managed and run Namfrel’s automated operation quick count prior to the 2010 elections, is proposing the Precinct Automated Tallying System or PATaS as an alternative to the PCOS. PATaS involves the conduct of manual voting, where voters will write the names of candidates or the unique number assigned to each candidate on the ballot. The counting of votes will be technology-assisted using laptops. An LCD projector connected to the laptop will be used to project on a screen the recording and counting of the votes. At the end of the counting, the election return will be printed and distributed to various parties. Then, the election return will be electronically transmitted to the city or municipal consolidation and canvassing system.
PATaS has been dubbed by some quarters as a hybrid system, presumably because it involves a mix of manual and automated processes. But isn’t the PCOS used in the 2010 and 2013 elections a hybrid voting and counting system? PCOS required the use of paper ballots. Voting was manual but counting was done by the PCOS. Unfortunately, the ballot appreciation, recording and counting of votes, and the preparation of the election return were hidden from public view.
Examination and review of the PCOS processes for ballot appreciation, vote recording, vote counting, and the preparation of the election returns require specialized knowledge and skills. And even if the review of the PCOS source code was done in full public view, not everybody will understand it.
The processes of PATaS, on the other hand, are fully transparent. Voters are used to and know the procedures for manual voting, which involves writing down the names of candidates of their choice for each contest. Appreciation of each ballot is fully transparent and affords watchers and lawyers of candidates or political parties the opportunity to challenge how a name on the ballot is read by the Chairman of the Board of Election Inspectors. Watchers also see how the votes are recorded by one of the members of the Board of Election Inspectors. A distinguishing feature of PATaS over the previous manual system is that watchers and observers see the running sum of votes per candidate. And when the election return is eventually printed, watchers can double- check what is printed on the election return and what they have on their notes.
The very title of Republic Act 8436 as amended by RA 9369 or the Election Automation Law expresses the objective of using an automated election system: “To encourage transparency, credibility, fairness and accuracy of elections.”
At the very core of PATaS’ design objective is transparency–to show how each ballot is appreciated, how each vote is recorded and counted, and how the election return is prepared. A transparency feature under consideration is displaying each ballot on the screen for all watchers to see. The tallying of votes is also publicly observable because its recording will also be displayed on screen.
Rep. Fredenil Castro, chairman of the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reform, observing the conduct of mock elections held last June 27, 2015 at a voting center in Bacoor, Cavite, where the PATaS was demonstrated, said the fully automated election system (referring to the PCOS-centric automated election system) was more credible because of the absence of any human intervention.
How did Rep. Castro conclude that the PCOS-centric automated election system is credible? What credibility standards did he use? Did he see how the PCOS appreciated each ballot? How it recorded the votes on each ballot? And how the votes were counted? Credibility is inextricably linked to transparency. If the processes are not transparent, doubts on how the PCOS generated the election results arise.
Some observers of the mock elections/PATaS demonstration pointed out that more watchers will have to be deployed if PATaS is used in the 2016 elections.
On the contrary! By using an LCD projector to display the tallying of votes, observation is enhanced and more convenient.
The accuracy of manual counting was also raised. As shown in the PATaS demonstration, the tallying of votes was done in parallel, that is, while tallying is being done using a laptop, a manual tally was also done. The protocol in the counting of votes required a review of the vote counts every 20 ballots. This provided an audit check of the vote tally ensuring that vote counting was done with a high degree of accuracy.
Let’s face IT. More reasons will be raised against the use of PATaS for our elections. There is no need to choose between PATaS and PCOS. The voting and counting system that offers full transparency must prevail over a system that hides it.