Poll advisory council bats for re-using PCOS machines in 2016
Aug. 19, 2014

Speaking before the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on automated election system (JCOC-AES) on Aug. 14, 2014, Louie Casambre said the Comelec Advisory Council (CAC), which he chairs, is recommending the reuse of existing precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines and the use of one or more voting technologies for the 2016 national elections.

Elaborating, new Comelec Commissioner Arthur Lim said that the election body currently has 80,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines which were leased during the 2010 elections and bought from Smartmatic for the 2013 midterm polls. The inventory, he said, will be augmented with the purchase of 6,000 new machines.

Arthur Lim said Comelec is inclined toward using a combination of old and new machines for the 2016 elections after Malacañang rejected the budget it requested for an “integrated system.”

The CAC submitted its full report on the May 2013 elections to Comelec on Aug. 13, or more than a year after the May 13 elections. Full presentation to the Comelec will be held on Aug. 20.

The council also recommended the optical mark reader (OMR) technology used by the PCOS machines to be the primary voting technology in 2016 explaining that the voters and election officials are “already familiar with it.”

Aside from the OMR, the advisory council also pushed for the use of one or more secondary voting technologies, such as direct-voting electronic (DRE) technology, so long as these inter-operate with the canvassing system. Filipino-developed systems would be given preference.

CAC strongly suggested that these secondary technologies be used in metropolitan areas.

Multiple or mixed technologies

Casambre said the Comelec should seriously consider the use of multiple or mixed-techonologies to promote inter-operability and encourage innovative solutions. He added that there should also be an open public bidding to allow the entry of other technology providers.

For overseas absentee voters, the CAC is recommending an internet voting system.

Lim added that by combining old and new machines, an integrator is needed. In addition, he said, Comelec will conduct two separate trainings and issue two general instructions for the board of election inspectors.

Other recommendations included: improvement of transmission system, measures for transparency server issues, that the AES be treated as an IT project which can be participated in by local talent and that there be additional full time tech persons deployed during elections.

The Comelec said it preferred the integrated system to avoid complications, and had asked for a budget of P16 billion for the elections in the proposed P2.6 trillion 2015 national budget but the DBM only allotted it P10.3 billion, so the Comelec has no choice but to work within this budget.

If they would use 80,000 of the old PCOS machines and 6,000 brand-new ones, including the cost of the printing of ballots and purchase of ballot boxes, the total cost would come to P6.9 billion.

Reacting, former Commissioner Gus Lagman, convenor of the Transparent Elections watchdog and member of AES Watch, asked why the government would spend billions of pesos to speed up counting by half a day, saying that after all, in the May 2013 elections automated canvassing, aided by personal computers, laptops and servers, cut down the election process from six weeks to one.

“Why should the Comelec, why should the government spend billions of pesos to shorten the election process by a mere half day?” Lagman asked. “What shortened the process from six weeks down to one was the automation of canvassing… PCOS only contributed half a day”

On another issue, Sen. JV Ejercito and Representatie Ortega asked whether the AES really made the election faster citing their own experiences in the past election. Both said that whereas before (manual counting), they were proclaimed before midnight, now (automated) they had to wait a day or two to be proclaimed

Recount Issue: Bro. Eddie case

At the JCOC hearing, supporters of Bro. Eddie Villanueva, who ran for senator in 2013, raised allegations against the Comelec with respect to the results of the senatorial election in three precincts in Gapan, Nueva Ecija.

Comelec officials said they are willing to reopen the ballots in the three precincts in response to these allegations. Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel, JCOC-AES chairman, said he would lead his colleagues in the Senate and the lower House in supervising the recount of ballots of three precincts in Gapan, Nueva Ecija on Aug. 28.

Defending the Comelec, Chairman Sixto Brillantes, Jr. noted that Gapan RTC Judge Celso Baguio ordered a physical count of the ballots in the three precincts, which showed a discrepancy of over 100 votes in one and seven each for the other two. For the two precincts where discrepancies of seven votes each were recorded, Brillantes said he was sure that the people who counted the ballots included the “over-votes” for Villanueva, which should not have been included in the first place. He said that over-votes consisted of ballots that contained more than 12 votes for senators, which should not be counted and were not counted by the PCOS machines.

Aside from Pimentel and JV Ejercito, JCOC-AES committee members present were Sens. Tito Sotto, Cynthia Villar, Grace Poe, and Reps. Ortega, Edgar Erice, and Mel Senen Sarmiento.

The next JCOC-AES meeting is on August 28. (With report notes from Paula Lagason)

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