The PCOS fiasco a few days before the May 10 elections has shattered the credibility not only of election automation, but of the entire electoral process itself. The entire process hinges on an accurate count by the PCOS machine. In fact, COMELEC specifications require at least 99.995% accuracy, or at most one error for every 20,000 marks or around 600 ballots. Today, we have very little idea how accurately the PCOS will count our votes.
One minor mistake – changing from a single-spaced to a double-spaced layout – has created a crisis of credibility for the entire elections. Who will accept at face value the PCOS machine counts now? Even a candidate who wins with a narrow margin may suspect that the machine might have trimmed his margin. Certainly, losing candidates can now be expected to demand a manual recount, so they can see for themselves how they actually fared. No assurance from Smartmatic or the Comelec will now suffice, because everyone has seen how the PCOS machine made gross errors during the final testing and sealing.
Many may not realize it yet, but we are in a different ballgame now. May 10 election victories — whoever wins, in whatever position – have just suffered a major devaluation.
The PCOS fiasco has robbed the winners of the May 10 elections of a clear victory. It has created not only a cloud of doubt about the machine results, but also last-minute disruptions in the crucial final days before the elections that will surely create confusion and chaos in many areas.
Deliveries had to be suspended, because the PCOS machines had to stay put in the hubs or sub-hubs, so they can await the CF memory card replacements. The final testing and sealing had to be called off, to avoid further embarassment and damage to the credibility of the automation project. When the replacement memory cards eventually arrive for installation in the machines, only then can these machines leave the distribution hubs and sub-hubs for final deployment.
Designing machines and ballot sets that will only work with each other, but delivering them separately had earlier created a “logistical nightmare”. The nightmare just became worse, because machines, ballot sets, and memory cards are now being delivered separately, and under even greater time pressure.
If the PCOS machine, its associated set of ballots, and its associated memory card, do manage to find themselves reunited in their destination precinct cluster, on time for the May 10 elections, they still need to be tested again. It was obvious from the fiasco that the accuracy of the machines were not checked before they were deployed, so the final testing is our only chance to determine the accuracy of the PCOS. This final testing cannot be dispensed with.
If the final testing with a ten-ballot test set shows even a single error, then we cannot guarantee with 95% confidence that the machine’s error rate is lower than 1%. There’s a good chance it is higher than 1%. Then, the board of election inspectors must either ask for a replacement, or go ahead and use an inaccurate machine.
Where machines don’t arrive, stop working, reject too many valid ballots, or otherwise fail, the board of election inspectors must resort to a manual count. The Comelec says it has prepared the paraphernalia for up to 30% of the precincts. But the precinct election inspectors have ask for the paraphernalia to be delivered first. More delays. Given the confusion, more than 30% of precincts may need to resort to a manual count.
If the paraphernalia for a manual count don’t arrive, the ballot boxes will have to be sealed and watched over, to be counted later.
So, expect confusion and chaos in many areas on election day. Yet, even where everything works smoothly, the machine counts will remain under a cloud of doubt, and losing candidates will surely demand a recount, citing as reason the errors made by the PCOS machines earlier. Who can blame them?
All because of an innocuous-looking suggestion to change from a single-spaced to a double-spaced ballot layout.
The origin of this suggestion must be traced. Who first raised it? Why did Comelec approve it? Why didn’t Smartmatic or Comelec test the accuracy of the PCOS machine with the new layout?
If anyone had intentionally wanted to disrupt the elections and discredit its results, he – or she – couldn’t have done it any better.