PCOS-rejected ballots

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Ever wonder what happened to the PCOS-rejected ballots in the 2010 and 2013 elections?

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PCOS ballot rejection was not an unexpected incident. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) came out with the “bilog na hugis itlog” video to show voters how to properly shade the ovals across the names of candidates of their choice. The Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM took pains to explain to the public that ambiguous marks on the ballot would result in the PCOS rejecting the ballot. The other causes are smudges on the bar code or the timing marks printed on all edges of the ballot or fake ballots.

What is the effect of ballot rejection by the PCOS?

If the PCOS-rejected ballots are considered invalid, were the affected voters effectively disenfranchised? A friend exclaimed, “The PCOS rejected my ballot! It wasted my vote!” He was cleared by the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) to vote, yet he was prevented by the PCOS from casting his ballot.

If the PCOS-rejected ballots are still valid, then the votes should have been counted. The Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM should have provided a process that would have enabled the BEIs to count the votes and incorporate the resulting count with the PCOS count.

In information technology practice, such a process is referred to as “exception handling process.”

System and software designers and developers take into consideration the established processes, rules, and guidelines that define the system planned for automation. Designers and developers also try, to the extent possible, to identify exceptional events that may arise so that the exception handling processes can be designed and incorporated in the system. An exception handling process is one that is designed to enable automated system operators and end users to properly respond to exceptional events.

The PCOS is a multi-function machine. Its functions, among others, include:

(1) as a data entry machine that allows voters to enter votes using paper ballots,

(2) as a vote counting machine that interprets the marks on the ballot and tallies the votes,

(3) as a report generator used to produce the election returns from the vote tally, and

(4) as a transmission machine that enables the BEI to electronically transmit the precinct election results to a canvassing server, the central server, and the transparency server.

Exception handling processes were provided in the event of failure in any of the PCOS functions. If the machine failed to count the votes or to generate the election returns, the exception handling process involved the use of a nearby PCOS to count the votes and generate the election return. If the PCOS failed to transmit the results, a nearby PCOS may be used to transmit the results or the CF card may be transported to the canvassing center where the precinct election results would be uploaded from the CF card to the canvassing server.

In the case of PCOS ballot rejection, the exception handling process simply required the BEIs to mark the PCOS rejected ballots as such and place them in a folder provided for the purpose.

The votes in the ballots rejected by the PCOS machines in the 2010 and 2013 elections were never counted.

The next election is in less than two years. If the Comelec is considering the re-use of the PCOS machines, we suggest that the legal standing of PCOS-rejected ballots be addressed first. In the absence of any contrary declaration, the PCOS-rejected ballots must be considered valid and an exception handling process that would enable the BEI to count the votes and incorporate the resulting count with the PCOS count must be defined. An investigation into the PCOS-rejected ballots in the past elections to determine the actual causes of ballot rejection should be conducted. The results of the investigation could provide good guidance in designing the appropriate exception handling process.

Some would argue, however, that by providing an exception handling process that would allow incorporating votes counts coming from another vote counting process with the PCOS count would compromise the integrity of the vote count results.

Well, then, would the argument boil down to a choice between allowing the PCOS to disenfranchise voters or compromising the integrity of the vote count? A choice need not be made.

We suggest that an exception handling process is the solution to PCOS ballot rejection and avoid disenfranchising any voter. The appropriate security measures should be incorporated in the design of the exception handling process to avoid compromising the integrity of the vote count.

Let’s face IT. Ballot rejection is not an acceptable incident. Its impact may be mitigated by incorporating an exception handling process appropriately designed to avoid PCOS disenfranchisement of voters. If an exception handling process described above is not possible, then the PCOS should be declared not fit for Philippine elections.

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