Will PCOS Machines Accept NPO-Printed Ballots on Election Day?

UPDATE – 11 May 2010

PCOS machines did accept NPO-printed ballots yesterday.  Only a few incidents of misprinted ballots being rejected by the machine were heard and seen over TV and radio broadcasts.


Only God knows.

The glitches brought about by allegedly wrong configuration files in more than 76 thousand compact flash cards during the test runs last 4 May surfaced using sample ballots.  Smartmatic claimed that COMELEC did not want to use actual ballots because the number of printed ballots is exact, no more no less.  Fine.

The problem is that no one knows if these ballots for Election Day were printed by the National Printing Office using HIGH SPEED printers according to specifications.  Any slight misalignment or variation in printing density in the ballot could cause the PCOS to reject this.  PCOS previously stood for precinct count optical scan; it should now stand for precinct count out-of synch.

And so I  reiterate my call for a parallel manual count of the ballots, even just for the President, the Governor, and the Mayor.

I am also reprinting today’s editorial of the Philippine Daily Inquirer on the same pleading to COMELEC.

Calling Comelec: Go manual

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:29:00 05/06/2010

We call on the Comelec to expedite the tests on the new memory cards, by Friday—and, at the same time, prepare for a higher proportion of the manual count, from the 30 percent it had anticipated to at least 50 percent. Without waiting for the Supreme Court, which has now been duly petitioned, the Comelec can already order a switch to a full manual system. This means using the existing PCOS-specific ballots for casting votes, but would require the printing of tally sheets and other election forms. This will be a tough challenge, but may be a more viable “fix,” logistically speaking, than replacing all 76,000 memory cards in three days.The time for divining silver linings in darkening clouds is past; the time to prepare for the coming storm is now.

Contrary to the insidious suggestion from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s election lawyer, the best way to survive the turbulent political weather ahead is not to postpone the vote, but to prepare for a manual count.

The latest testing fiasco has been blamed on two causes: the memory cards that carry specific instructions for each voting machine, and the use of unofficial paper which resulted in mis-readings of the votes cast in the mock elections. This seems to us to be mutually exclusive. If the compact flash cards carried the wrong code, then the use of a different kind of paper would have been immaterial; the precinct count optical scan machines would still have produced the wrong results. And if the ballots used were in fact unofficial, then how could the exercise even be considered a proper test?

These facts alone give us reason to agree with former Comelec Chair Christian Monsod’s assessment of the debacle: “The good news is that this is not part of a conspiracy to manipulate the polls, nor an attempt to cheat. This is a problem of incompetence and it’s solvable.”

One can argue about the timetable, about whether there is in fact enough time to solve the last discovered glitch. But even if there is enough time (as both the Comelec and its automation contractor Smartmatic insist), the real problem is as Monsod defines it: incompetence.

We differ with him, however, on the problem’s true consequences. We fear that the road to electoral hell is paved with good-intentioned incompetence.

In other words, we share the public’s growing unease that more glitches will probably happen on election day itself.

Think about it: In each stage of the automation process, results have eroded public confidence in the automated election system, instead of boosting it.

In January, a field test showed transmission problems caused by weak cellular phone signals markedly slowed the submission of test vote results—as though the presence or absence of cell-phone signals could not be determined beforehand. To date, about 10,000 machines will require the use of satellite links to transmit the results—but this mode of transmission has not even been tested yet.

At the start of the overseas absentee voting period, a PCOS machine in Hong Kong, and then its back-up, stalled for a time. The cause, according to Smartmatic, was the difference in temperature between the room that stored the ballots and the room in which the machines were located. The notion that this consideration did not enter Smartmatic’s calculations beforehand is mind-boggling.

And last Monday, the voting machines failed spectacularly to reflect the true results of the mock elections.

This is a track record in demonstrated incompetence, and leads the public to ask the obvious question: The latest glitch may be fixed in time, but can both the Comelec and Smartmatic guarantee the electorate that no more glitches will emerge on Election Day?

That is the point: They cannot issue a credible guarantee, because a track record of “solvable” incompetence does not, cannot, inspire credibility.

What can the Comelec do? It can embrace its main mandate: It is the constitutional agency tasked to conduct elections. We have supported the ideal of automated elections from the start, but like many citizens, we make a distinction between the automation process itself, and elections.

The President’s deputy spokesman for economic affairs, therefore, missed the point when he argued Wednesday that “the success of the automation … is more important than the timing.” In point of fact, the success of the election is more important than automation. Postponement, on the other hand, opens the door to more election fraud, and can only generate greater political—and economic—uncertainty.

As it is, if the latest proposed solution to the latest technical glitch is completed only the day before elections, the Comelec has effectively turned the automated vote on May 10 into nothing more than a giant trial-and-error test.



Filed under election, Philippines

2 responses to “Will PCOS Machines Accept NPO-Printed Ballots on Election Day?

  1. Pingback: Philippine Daily Inquirer

  2. Pingback: Lost in the Counting : Manuel L. Quezon III: The Daily Dose

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