Depending on technology, 2016 polls to cost P7B to P60B

Angela Casauay

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Depending on which technology and machines the Comelec will choose for the 2016 elections, they will cost anywhere from P6.91 billion to P60 billion

PREPS. Commission on Elections officials, led by their Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr (rightmost) holds a briefing before the Joint Congressional Committee on the Automated Election System. Photo by Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – What to do with the poll body’s 80,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines?

In a briefing before the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Election System, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Monday, February 10, said one of the options is to use the old PCOS machines with new ones in 2015 and 2016.

The two other options are: to discard all the old machines and buy new ones but using the same technology; to use a new technology and buy direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines.

Costs, logistics, and security issues related to the PCOS are the primary factors being considered by the poll body.

Voters in Mindanao will be deciding in a plebiscite on the proposed Bangsamoro political entity in 2015. In 2016, voters nationwide will be electing a new president and vice president, and a fresh set of senators, congressmen, and local officials. 

“Mixing old units with the new ones – that would entail the least cost and then less time would be needed for the certification process so the activities for the preparation can start early, and also the Board of Elections Inspectors and the voters are already familiar with the system,” said Comelec Executive Director Jose Tolentino.”

“But if we use old technology…definitely they (the candidates) cannot change the result but they already know the system so they can disrupt the process,” he added.

While the PCOS technology requires voters to shade ballots that would be counted by machines, the DRE technology would allow voters to pick their chosen candidates through a touchscreen. 

Using new technology will ensure that “no one would be able to disrupt the system.”

“But if it’s new, then we will rely on the provider completely. There’s a need for a massive information campaign so we would be able to conduct the elections using new knowledge and technology. There would also be a longer period for the certification process,” he added.

How much each option requires

The poll body would need between P6.91 billion to P10.3 billion for the PCOS warehouse, voters’ education, and other logistical needs depending on how many voters would be assigned per precinct if both old and new machines are used. 

Meanwhile, it would cost the government between P12.906 billion to P24.436 billion if the Comelec decides to buy new machines and disregard the old ones.

The DRE, on the other hand, would cost up to P60 billion. 

Comelec expects the total number of registered voters to increase by 4 million to 56 million in 2016. 

For the 2013 midterm elections, the Comelec bought some 82,000 PCOS machines from Smartmatic Corporation and its local partner Total Information Management Corporation. Election watchdogs questioned the validity of the purchase but the Supreme Court later upheld it

Days after the May 2013 elections, Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr said if it were all up to him, he would not recommend the use of the PCOS machines to his successor. Brillantes will retire in February 2015.  

Should the Comelec decide to switch to use new technology in the next elections, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez earlier said the poll body is considering selling the 82,000 PCOS units to other countries planning to automate their elections

PCOS problems in 2013

In its report on the May 2013 elections submitted to Congress, Comelec said their assessment of how PCOS machines performed shows the units “worked exactly as intended.” 

Out of the 78,166 PCOS machines deployed across the country, 2% or 1,297 units had to be replaced, Comelec said. 

Meanwhile, 790 compact flash (CF) cards had to be replaced, corresponding to barely 1% of all CF cards used. 

Based on reports compiled by Rappler, PCOS-related problems encountered during the May elections included the failure to initialize the machines, poor wireless signals, and sudden shutdowns – all causing delays in transmissions. 

The current automated election system, which makes use of PCOS machines, has faced various criticisms since 2009. Critics have blasted the use of Smartmatic’s PCOS machines, questioning the lack of a local source code review, among other things.

In preparation for the 2016 elections, the Comelec has convened a steering committee to ensure the smooth operation of the polls.

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