I can understand that the public in general would believe so. I can even understand that politicians would believe so as well, even if it is their responsibility to find out what is true and what is not. But I cannot understand, and find it unforgivable, that Comelec officials, who administer the country’s elections,would believe that it was the use of PCOS (Precinct Count Optical Scan) in the last two elections that shortened the election process from some six weeks when it was pure manual, down to one week or so.
Let me explain. In the past, when elections were purely manual, the timelines were as follows:
1. Voting—8 hours (from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.)
2. Precinct counting—12 hours on average; some might have taken a day, when there were major problems, like late arrival of election paraphernalia, violence, and other untoward incidents, etc.
3. Transport of ballot boxes —anywhere from a few minutes to a few days, depending on the distance of the precincts to the municipal hall where most of the Boards of Canvassers do the consolidation of Election Returns
4. Consolidation and canvassing—could take as long as six weeks to complete, opening up opportunities for dagdag-bawas
Let’s analyze this.
1) In the last two elections (2010 and 2013) when PCOS was used, the voting phase, which was actually also manual (we marked the ovals manually, remember?), took 11 hours, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. It was longer by three hours because there were more voters per precinct as a result of the clustering of precincts from a total of 220,000 down to 80,000.
2) The precinct counting phase, which was done by PCOS, was, in theory—meaning, if everything went well—instantaneous. But, as we know, some technical (hardware) problems were nonetheless encountered.
3) In 2010,it was reported that PCOS was not able to transmit successfully in 9.8 percent of the precincts; and in 2013, was not able to transmit successfully in 23 percent of the precincts. Consequently, the PCOS machines, or their corresponding CF (Compact Flash) cards, or both, had to be transported physically to the City/Municipal Boards of Canvassers, which, as in the manual system, may also have taken a few days.
4) The consolidation and canvassing phase, which only used ordinary PCs and servers, took only a few days, thus cutting down the entire process by several weeks.
Looking at the above figures, it is crystal clear that PCOS, even if we assume flawless and instantaneous precinct counting, only saved the election process by some 9 hours (12 hours precinct counting when manually done, minus 3 hours extension in the PCOS-assisted voting phase). It was the electronic transmission and consolidation/canvassing phases that cut down the process from six weeks down to one! These two phases only needed PCs and servers.
So the question is: Did we have to spend P11.3 billion in 2010 and almost P9 billion in 2013 just to save nine hours in the election process? Ridiculous, isn’t it? All that we needed to spend was around P2 billion in each election for the purchase of PCs and servers, which would already include encoding machines. And these PCs and servers could have been donated to the public school system after each election, thus also saving the Comelec expenses for the warehousing and maintenance of the machines.
As the country’s election administrator, the Comelec must also know that whatever system it adopts for precinct counting –whether PCOS, or other OMR-based systems, DRE (Direct Recording Electronic System), or even a manual system – the consolidation and canvassing system, from city/municipal, to provincial, to national, would be the same. In fact, this same consolidation/canvassing system using PCs and servers is how many countries automate their election systems, so there’s nothing new in the approach; and neither is it unique to us. Many countries which have ventured further and automated their precinct counting, have since reverted to manual precinct counting.
One very important lesson that Comelec should have learned from the past two elections is that electronic transmission is the toughest problem. It is apparent that the telecommunications companies (telcos) do not cover the entire country and so there are precincts that could not transmit using presently available lines. Comelec should therefore focus on this as early as now, as they should also have done in the past, rather than on what precinct counting system to use. There’s enough time for the latter. (In fact, for the sake of transparency, it should opt for manual counting at the precincts. More on that in another article.)
Meetings with the telcos to map out the existing facilities and to figure out solutions to the gaps should have been ongoing by now.
If Comelec, which is the official administrator of all national and local elections, did not know about these facts, then its officials have no business being there. If, however, they knew about these, then they must have deceived the voting public by choosing PCOS. That possible deception wasted a total of about P16 billion of taxpayer money in 2010 and 2013! Way, way above what is considered plunder in our Constitution.
Worse, transparency was lost, accuracy was put into question, and cheating became much easier.
So, why is the Comelec, until now, still considering the use of PCOS? Are we going to be deceived once again?