I don’t like the PCOS because I don’t know if it correctly and accurately recorded my votes.
Republic Act No. 9369 (RA 9369), or the law that authorizes the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to use an automated election system in the conduct of our elections, identifies two technologies that may be used for voting: (a) paper-based voting system which scans paper ballots on which the voter has indicated his choices by shading geometrical figures placed beside the names of the candidates of his choice and (b) direct recording electronic election system which allows the recording of votes by means of a virtual ballot displayed on screen and the selection is made by a voter via physical buttons or virtual buttons on a touchscreen.
RA 9369 also prescribes a set of minimum system capabilities, one of which is the voter verified paper audit trail or VVPAT. The VVPAT is a means by which the voter is enabled to check and verify if the voting machine correctly and accurately recorded his votes.
One of the basic functions of either technology is as a data entry machine. As a data entry machine, the voting machine is used to enter a voter’s selections. In the case of the paper-based voting system, the voter enters his selections into the voting machine using a paper ballot. In the case of the direct recording electronic election system, the voter enters his selection via a touchscreen. A vote record which holds the voter selections is created after the ballot is cast.
An essential step in the data entry process, which comes before the posting of data entered for processing, is to verify the correctness and accuracy of the data entered. The framers of the law recognized this essential step and prescribed the provision of the VVPAT in the voting technology to be used.
The voting technology used in the 2010 and 2013 elections is the paper-based voting system which is locally referred to as the PCOS or the Precinct Count Optical Scan. The voting machine could have been programmed to generate a printout of the voter selections, which is essentially the VVPAT. Alternatively, the vote selections could have been displayed on screen. But the Comelec chose not to require the supplier Smartmatic-TiM to provide a VVPAT in the PCOS.
In not requiring the VVPAT, the Comelec argued that the ballot is the accurate record of the vote selections. But the ballot cannot serve the function of the VVPAT. The keyword in the term “voter verified paper audit trail” is “audit” which synonymously refers to inspection, scrutiny, examination, or verification. So, what is there to audit? This writer started this piece with a statement, “I don’t like the PCOS because I don’t know if it correctly and accurately recorded my votes.” The need to know if the vote record accurately reflects the vote selections on the ballot justifies why the PCOS should have been provided with a VVPAT.
The paper ballot cannot be used to verify if the voting machine correctly and accurately recorded the vote selections. If so, this would call for the opening of the ballot box and the data file that holds the vote records in the voting machine storage medium. Then, there must be a facility to display the vote records and each paper ballot will have to be compared with the vote records in order to find the corresponding vote record. It will be a tedious and taxing process. As far as this writer knows, there are only three instances when the ballot box may be opened: (1) for the purpose of counting the votes after polls had been closed, (2) for the purpose of conducting a recount arising out of an election protest, and (3) if the particular PCOS machine, as provided by law, has been selected for the conduct of the Random Manual Audit.
A problem may arise if the VVPAT does not match the voter selection.
In the 2010 and 2013 elections, the voter had no opportunity to correct or change his selections since a replacement ballot was not provided.
In the case of the direct recording electronic, as long as the voter has not pressed the cast button, he still has the opportunity to correct or change his selections.
A vote recording problem may be indicated if, after correcting his selections, the VVPAT still does not match voter’s selection.
In such event the ballot may be set aside for “exception processing,” a practice in the IT industry which will be discussed next time.
Let’s face IT. The VVPAT is one of the safeguards prescribed by the framers of the law which the Comelec chose to ignore. The Comelec perhaps expected the voters to blindly trust the automated election system it implemented in 2010 and 2013.