A LEADING daily reported last week that Comelec has leased another 3,540 vote-counting machines (VCM) for P133,466,600 for the May 2016 local and national polls. (No, the VCM is not a new machine; it’s the same despicable PCOS that, because of its bad reputation, has been re-named VCM. Somebody should tell them that … “Garbage, by any other name, will smell …” My apologies to Shakespeare.)

The report further said that, according to Commissioner Christian Robert Lim, chairman of the Comelec’s steering committee for the 2016 elections, “they decided to place a ‘repeat order’ … because of the expected increase in voters next year.” Comelec also said, according to the report, that “54.5 million individuals registered for the coming elections.” After disqualifications, screening for double and multiple registration, the number is still expected to exceed 52 million.

“According to Lim, Smartmatic had offered to refurbish without upgrade a total of 6,000 units of PCOS for free but they decided not to use the machines anymore since the results they produce “will not be read by the new canvassing and consolidation system.”

“The Comelec also found some ‘administrative issues’ that may crop up if they use the PCOS units, such as having to split the Comelec’s technical teams and the need to hold more biddings for the supplies and consumables to be used in refurbishing the units.”

Let’s analyze this decision.

First, how many units do they really need based on their target machine-to-voter ratio? If we use the high of 54.5 million voters as basis – meaning, no disqualifications – and multiply this by the 80% voter turn-out (high side), then total voters in May, 2016 would be 43.6 million. If they then target a 600 machine-to-voter ratio, then 43.6 million divided by 600, will result in a total number of 72,667 units needed. Providing for 4% backup (Comelec’s figure) will yield 75,573 units.

The Comelec’s original count of 82,000 units would have been more than sufficient. Yet, they still leased an additional 23,000 units.

Actually, they are leasing a total of 94,000 brand new units and discarding the 82,000 units that the Brillantes Commission bought in 2012. I opposed that decision (I was still a Comelec Commissioner then), telling the six other Commissioners - all lawyers - that if we bought those machines, we would have to take care of warehousing and repair expenses. At that time, Smartmatic was responsible for those expenses. The Comelec, nonetheless, went ahead and purchased the machines, using the justification that the machines can be used over and over again. That’s a “smart” move that only benefited Smartmatic.

So now, we have 82,000 machines that will not be used in 2016. Worse, by using those machines in 2013, we witnessed what turned out to be the worst Philippine election ever!

Second, the Comelec said that “they decided not to use the old machines anymore since the results they produce will not be read by the new canvassing and consolidation system.” What rubbish!

It’s so simple to either modify the PCOS code to produce the format that the new CCS requires; or modify the new CCS code to accept the format that the old PCOS machines produce. A third alternative solution would be to write a simple code to convert the old PCOS format to one that’s acceptable to the new CCS. There’s nothing complicated in those alternative solutions.

In the 2008 ARMM election, the CCS accepted both the format produced by the Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) machines and the format produced by the Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) system. Two different technologies inputting into a common CCS. Again, nothing complicated in that situation, except the complication that resulted because of the program “bugs” in Smartmatic’s version of CCS at that time. Fortunately, they were able to correct the errors.

So why is the Comelec spending an additional P133 million for 3,540 additional machines? I can’t find logic in that decision, but let me make some guesses: Smartmatic wants to earn more money from us. Comelec does not know what they’re doing and simply follows what Smartmatic tells them to do. Smartmatic feels that this may be the last time their machines will be used in Philippine elections and might as well get as much as they can … now!

Oh my … never mind, we’re a rich country naman and money is coming out of our ears. I can laugh at the state of our election system, except that every time I do, it hurts.