By Mikha Flores, VERA Files
The Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines in several voting precincts hurdled their final test on Thursday with positive results which the Commission on Elections hopes will be replicated across the country.
The automated machines correctly counted the votes during the final testing and sealing (FTS) in precincts in Pasay City’s first district 11 days before the May 13 elections. In other words, the automated count tallied with the manual count of the test ballots.
“Mas handa kami. Second na, nakita na namin yung mga depekto nung 2010. Nakita na namin yung deficiencies (We are more prepared. This is the second time and we already saw the deficiencies in 2010),” said Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes, referring to incidents during the country’s first automated elections in 2010.
The poll body had to recall compact flash (CF) cards a week before Election Day in 2010 after tests showed the PCOS counted the wrong names in local elective positions.
Election officials did not expect any glitches as they have already learned their lessons from 2010 and prepared for more than a year to ensure the machines’ accuracy, Brillantes said. The PCOS machines also went through “preliminary” tests unlike in 2010 where the errors in counting were known only during the FTS, he added.
Brillantes observed the FTS of a clustered precinct in Gotamco Elementary School in Pasay City from the initialization of the PCOS machine to verifying the results through a manual audit.
Pasay City was among the first to conduct FTS on the machines. The Automation Law requires Comelec to test and examine equipment for the elections before voting starts. The final testing and sealing will continue till May 10.
Comelec’s Election Officer in Pasay, meanwhile, reported that at least seven out of 12 precincts experienced malfunctioning PCOS machines. There were auto shutdowns and paper jams that delayed the FTS.
“Kaya nga very critical ang FTS, para kung magkaroon ng problema, masosolusyunan (This is why it is very critical to conduct the FTS, so we can find solutions to problems, if any arise),” lawyer Feliciano Aringay said.
Aringay added they reported the errors to Comelec’s National Support Center, an in-house call center hub where IT workers assist field personnel in troubleshooting the PCOS.
The FTS used 10 test ballots filled out by registered voters in the same precinct. The test voters filled out ballots containing the names of national and local candidates for the May 13 polls.
After the test voters were fed in the PCOS machines, the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) printed copies of election returns (ER) of the FTS. The ERs were later compared to a manual tally of the BEI.
The inspectors initially saw a discrepancy between the machine count and the manual count for the city councilor position. A recount showed the BEIs still counted an “overvote”, an instance where a voter exceeds shades in an elective position.
The PCOS voids all votes when it detects an “overvote”.
Brillantes said the BEIs are not exactly trained to do a manual count since there is a separate team doing the random manual audit (RMA).
“They are not really that trained but they already know how to count manually. Yung audit team namin…hindi magkakamali yun ng mga overvote (Our audit team…they won’t make mistakes in an overvote),” Brillantes said.
All PCOS machines for Pasay City have been deployed and will be stored either in the library or principal’s office of each school. Philippine National Police personnel will guard the machines until Election Day. (With additional reporting by Darlene Cay)
(VERA Files is put out by senior journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true”.)