Preparations for the 2016 national and local elections is heating up. In fact, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has initiated the bidding for additional PCOS machines. Additional because the Comelec intends to re-use the PCOS machines that were used in the 2010 and 2013 elections.
The Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) recommended the re-use of the PCOS machines used in the 2010 and 2013 elections, provided that said existing stock be subjected to technical assessment to determine fitness for re-use in the 2016 elections. The CAC also recommended full implementation of all security and minimum technical capabilities defined under the Election Automation Law, Republic Act No. 8436 as amended by Republic Act No. 9369, as condition for re-use of the PCOS.
Isn’t it logical to have the fitness assessment done first before proceeding with the procurement of new ones?
The existing stock of PCOS machines will be six years old come 2016 and based on its 2013 performance, several machines were found to have problems. The CAC Report on the 2013 elections states that: “A number of PCOS machines failed to function properly on Election Day. NAMFREL reports that as of 7:00 pm (close of polls), a total of 1,182 machines malfunctioned, as received from 34 provinces and nine cities in the NCR. There were at least five types of machine malfunction, classified as follows: a. The machines failed to initialize; b. Some machines started well but stopped functioning after a few ballots were fed into it; c. Paper jamming; d. The back-up memory cards simply did not work; and e. The machines rejected the ballots fed.” The same problems were encountered in the 2010 elections. Recall that the CAC, in its post 2010 election report, stated that “The AES encountered too many problems that need to be resolved before this particular system can be used again.”
Another problem with the PCOS was reported by the Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) during the hearing of the Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms and People Participation (CERPP) on September 18, 2013. In that hearing, Dir. Denis Villorente, TEC Chairman, reported that of the 234 PCOS covered by the Random Manual Audit (RMA), the RMA Committee referred eleven PCOS with discrepancies greater than nine between the PCOS count and manual count to the TEC for root cause determination. All eleven were found to have generated digital lines on ballot images captured by the PCOS machines. Seven of these had lines running through ovals. 11 out of 234 is about 4.7%. Extrapolating, at least 3,676 PCOS machines could have been affected. A hounding cause of worry for CERPP Chair, Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel, 3rd.
And, why did the RMA Committee refer only those PCOS machines with discrepancies greater than nine between the PCOS count and manual count to the TEC for root cause determination when Section 29 of RA8436 as amended by RA9369 clearly states in part that “Any difference between the automated and manual count will result in the determination of root cause and initiate a manual count for those precincts affected by the computer or procedural error.” Surely, more PCOS machines are problematic.
Transmission woes also hounded the PCOS machines in the 2013 elections. The CAC Report states: “Eight days after Election Day, the PPCRV reported that the transmission in the 2013 National and Local Elections decreased to 76.35% from 90.35% in 2010. At the closure of PPCRV’s Unofficial Parallel Count on May 27, 2013, it has been reported that 23.65% (18,489) out of all precincts across the nation did not transmit data to the Transparency Server.”
There can only be a few reasons for transmission to fail, among which are (1) absence of coverage but this could have been addressed much earlier and an alternative mode of transmission, such as satellite, could have been set up; (2) weak signal which could have been addressed by looking for a suitable location where to position the PCOS machine at the voting center; (3) problems with the telecommunications network which the telecommunications service providers have denied, saying that there were no problem tickets received on the day of the elections and that their respective networks worked properly; (4) deliberate jamming of signals, which could have been possible but could be detected; (5) operator failure—but this could have been addressed with proper training of the Board of Election Inspectors who were also the operators of the PCOS machines; and (6) modem quality—there were actually reports from the 2010 and 2013 elections that some modem antennae fell off the modem. Whatever the cause of transmission failure should have been investigated and resolved soon after the 2013 elections.
Let’s face IT. The PCOS machines have been hounded by problems. If nothing is done to fix the problems, why re-use the same machines?