MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – It's the dry run of all election dry runs.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Thursday, May 2, checks for the last time the ballot-counting machines before the country uses them again on May 13.
It's called the final testing and sealing (FTS) process, which is meant to check the completeness, security, and accuracy of over 78,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines. Voters can visit their own precincts to witness this.
Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes Jr led the first day of the FTS at Gotamco Elementary School, Pasay City, that started at around 9 am.
Brillantes said the FTS will boost the credibility of the elections. "Pampalakas-loob ito kasi sa dami ng detractor namin na ang iingay 'pag malapit na ang eleksyon, na sinasabi puro doubt, speculation. Gusto namin ipakita na ito, ginagawa namin. Ito, alinsunod sa batas," he told reporters. (This is a confidence-building measure, because we have a lot of detractors, who come out as election day nears, spreading doubt, speculation. We want to show that we're doing this. This is in accordance with the law.)
(Watch more in Rappler's video report below.)
In the clustered precinct that Brillantes went to, the FTS took around two hours and ended without major glitches. The PCOS count tallied with the succeeding manual audit.
Based on Comelec Resolution No. 9640, which contains general instructions for the board of election inspectors (BEI), the BEI should conduct the FTS at least 7 days before elections. Brillantes said the FTS will happen in most other precincts on May 6.
What to monitor
During the FTS, what should voters watch out for?
The most important part of the process is the casting of test ballots. The BEI will randomly choose 10 voters to do this.
The BEI should make sure that the voters fully shaded the ovals on the ballot, and did not damage the sheet's security features. This way, the inspectors can check if the PCOS will accept the ballots under standard conditions.
Once the voter has inserted the ballot in the PCOS, the BEI should retrieve the test ballots from the ballot box, and manually count the votes. Then, they should come up with a manually-prepared election return and compare this with the machine-generated version.
Comelec Resolution No. 9640 states: “If the results of both ERs are not the same, the BEI shall review/re-appreciate the ballots to determine the cause of the discrepancy. If after re-appreciation, there is still discrepancy, the BEI shall calll on the assigned technical support personnel."
The BEI should also observe the procedures below, among others:
The BEI should also seal the slots for the main and back-up memory cards. Once they finish the process, they should seal the entire PCOS box.
From then on, the PCOS may only be opened on May 13, before voting begins and in the presence of watchers, if any.
In 2010, it was during the FTS that the Comelec found configuration errors in around 76,000 compact flash (CF) cards. The situation triggered no-election scenarios then, but manufacturer Smartmatic replaced the defective CF cards in less than a week.
Brillantes said in case it also happens this year, the Comelec is ready to face this problem. “If we were able to replace all the 76,000 in 2010 in less than a week, we should be able to solve isolated problems of CF cards.”
The FTS is the last in a series of tests on the PCOS.
Since the country last used the PCOS in 2010, the machines have undergone tests such as the source code review done by the Denver-based SLI Global Solutions, and the mock elections last February 2.
Last February 12, a Comelec committee released the certification of SLI that the automated election system “can operate properly, securely, and accurately.” SLI also said there is no “intentionally malicious code” in the PCOS. (Read: 'No malicious code' in PCOS - int'l experts).
During the mock elections, the PCOS underwent another test, when an audit committee manually counted the votes to compare these with the PCOS tally. The discrepancies between the PCOS and manual counts exceeded the allowable limit, casting doubt over the accuracy of PCOS machines.
In a report noted by the Comelec en banc last April 19, however, the committee said the mismatch was not the fault of the PCOS. (Read: PCOS cleared over counting mismatch.)
The committee attributed the errors to human factors. (Watch more in Rappler's video report below.)
Watchdogs, however, blasted the Comelec after the PCOS failed to undergo a crucial review. This is the source code review by local groups, which, for them, is the only way to ensure that the PCOS will not be used in fraud.
Brillantes, on the other hand, claimed the certification of an independent, international entity – SLI – is enough. He said the PCOS is safe to use, even without a local source code review. (Read: FAQs: Why worry about PCOS code?) – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.