Latest Issues Plaguing Comelec as of May 4, 2010

We are only six (6) days away from the widely-criticized Automated Local and National Elections and instead of reinforcing faith in the effectivity and reliability of the system, more and more problems are being discovered casting doubts that the COMELEC is capable of ensuring a successful conduct of the elections. To update you of the recent events, just in case you failed to catch-up with the news, I have summarized some of the issues below and have attempted to clarify, explain and allay the fears of voters like myself.
But first, a disclaimer: I do not claim any authority or expertise whatsoever with regards to both the technical and legal aspects of the Automated Election System. But being a computer technician by education and an equipment maintenance/technician by profession, there are aspects of the automation system that I can understand and have confidence on -- and consequently would like to do my part in dousing unnecessary fear and doubt about our very first automated elections. These explanations are a mixed bag of knowledge based on what I have read on the COMELEC website and elsewhere on the web, my experience and knowledge as a technician and my personal understanding of the process. Advice, comments and opinions in this blog and in this particular post must not be construed as 100% factual as this is primarily an opinion blog and not a news source. It is your obligation as a responsible citizen to be wary of the information you read online and elsewhere. Any mention of statistical information must be verified with the proper news source. Consider this my little way of shedding light on the issue which I feel I have the social and moral obligation to impart. If you feel this is helpful to you, your family, friends and colleagues, please feel free to share this post. All posts in this blog are licensed as Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Philippines.
Below is a list of current problems experienced during yesterday's dry-run which the COMELEC is looking into and finding solutions for: 1. Failure of the PCOS to "read" or count votes for certain candidates. Some political parties, Manny Villar's Nacionalista Party in particular are claiming that votes for Manny Villar were not counted in a dry-run held in Muntinlupa and that similar scenarios were observed in other areas (Mindoro, Batangas, Makati and Pateros). Other problems included incidents where only votes for Lakas-Kampi CMD (LKC) candidates were counted.
  • COMELEC's Response: In today's "Unang Hirit" interview with Winnie Monsod, COMELEC spokesman James Jimenez said that errors of miscounting only happened in counting LOCAL election candidates' votes because the names for the local candidates were printed/moved ON THE BACK SIDE of the ballot (this is a design issue done to shorten the length of the ballot), and that the error was caused by the CF (Compact Flash) cards failing to consider/adjust its parameters (software issue) based on the physical ALIGNMENT of the names on the back of the ballot.
In response to Winnie Monsod's clarification if this is only true for the LOCAL candidates and NOT THE NATIONAL candidates, Jimenez ensured that this problem only occurred for LOCAL candidates because the NATIONAL candidate names were printed on the front page and their 'alignment' were untouched.
  • What COMELEC has done/will do: Recall/pull-out ALL CF cards (all 76,000+ of them) and reconfigure it. This will happen from today and hopefully finish soon to give them ample time to resume with the dry-run. We have 6 days.
  • My Take:
Remember, that the PCOS, as implied by its acronym is primarily a counting/adding machine equipped with an OPTICAL SCAN capability. What does that mean? It means that its accuracy in "counting" or "considering" votes is based on OPTICAL RECOGNITION. The PCOS is not a "punch-card" machine that relies on "ballots" with holes in it. It is highly-dependent on physical "alignments" and "positioning" of candidate names on the ballot paper which it will check/verify/match against a set parameter in the software program. So if one candidate's name is "OFF" or not in its "expected" location in the ballot, a vote for that candidate may be considered for another candidate PRECEDING or SUCCEEDING the intended/preferred candidate's name on the ballot. Jimenez's explanation of the problem leads me to believe that the PCOS reads the ovals in the same way as "windows" or "square holes" on grade school Mathematics drill cards (A1, S1, M1 remember?). By analogy, if you move the "drill card" downwards or upwards, a different set of answers will be visible through the "windows" rendering your answers "wrong" or "off" because it was "moved" from its original position. Jimenez was sure on his claim, that this is MERELY a SOFTWARE issue. This means they only need to "pull-out" the CF cards (which is basically the heart and soul of the machine, in the same way a CPU is to a computer) from the PCOS machine in question and reload it with a "corrected" program. By "corrected", it means the initial parameters or measurements set in the program will be edited or adjusted accordingly based on the physical location of the names on the back of the ballot. So, if indeed it is true that in yesterday's dry-run, some or all votes for one candidate is being counted for another, IT DOES NOT AUTOMATICALLY MEAN that the PCOS has either been pre-loaded with results or that it has "programmed preference" for certain candidates or parties and definitely does not imply that there is an attempt to rig the election results. However, if this is not fixed and tested immediately with 100% confidence, this may result to inaccurate results. Other issues:
RMA (Random Manual Audit) Random Manual Audit will be done on the day of the elections, May 10, 2010 in 5 precincts per legislative district. Precincts that will undergo manual audit will be "drawn" from a raffle to be done mid-day. Actual random audit on selected precinct will be done at around 6 or 7 pm after the voting schedule. Votes recorded on the PCOS machine will be verified against actual votes cast on physical ballots. While 100% accuracy is not expected due to subjective human interpretation vs. machine parameters, Smartmatic claims no more than 0.5% difference. What happens if RMA fails for a certain precinct? Will it postpone the proclamation of winners in the municipal level/local posts? No -- because by the time manual audit is through, results would have been transmitted by the PCOS machines and the COMELEC will proclaim accordingly regardless of the result of the RMA. Protests and investigation will go through the usual course of action but IT WILL NOT STOP IMMEDIATE PROCLAMATION. So the scenario of a holdover or non-proclamation of winners is VERY unlikely.
2. Purposely delaying the voting process may result to reduced voter turn-out and adversely affect election results.
  • COMELEC's Response:
The possibility of this scenario has not been dismissed by COMELEC and 'attempts to disrupt the swift and efficient conduct of the elections' has been confirmed by COMELEC itself.
  • What COMELEC has done/will do:
They have released guidelines/specific instructions to BEIs (Board of Election Inspectors) and support staff (which can go as high as 8 people depending on the number of precincts clustered) to assist voters who are taking too long (10-15 minutes) in voting. COMELEC's time and motion study revealed that it will only take an average of 7-8 minutes for a voter to fully accomplish the ballot paper/vote.
  • My Take:
As I've written in my previous post, "Voter's Guide to Using the PCOS (Precinct Count Optical Scan) machine", due to budget/geographical/manpower restraints -- to name a few, we only have 76,000+ PCOS machine available for 50M+ voters which has compelled us to cluster precincts. This has resulted to a voter count of as high as four times its usual number per precinct, so from an average of 250, it can go as high as 1000 voters per precinct. This poses a high risk for low voter turn-out due to various reasons including but not limited to: 1. New system = relatively steep learning curve for NEW voters and senior citizen voters. 2. Time constraint may lead to many frustrated voters deciding to pass-up on voting. 3. Locating precincts may take longer than usual, especially for those who didn't take time to locate their precincts prior to election day. What can you do to facilitate and speed up your own voting time in order to make room for others who take longer to vote and ensure everyone gets to vote? 1. Verify your precinct number prior to May 10. It's fastest to do it online -- Click here to "find out your own precinct number". 2. If you have a computer and printer at home, or if you can go online and print somewhere else (cybercafes/computer shops), please print a ballot sample so you can get a "feel" of how to shade the ovals, see how small they actually look like and test how fast you can do your shading. There are two (2) sample ballots in the COMELEC website -- one for the national posts, and one for the local posts. Print both. Note that in the actual ballot paper, the candidates for the local posts are located at the back of the ballot paper. Click below to download sample ballots: a) National ballot template for ARMM areas b. National ballot template for Non-ARMM areas c) Local ballot templates 3. Write down a complete list of your preferred candidates on a sheet of paper. Bring that with you on May 10. 4. Come to your precinct as early as you possibly can. 5. Watch out for people distributing "sample ballots" or other election-related posters or leaflets. Campaigning is NO LONGER ALLOWED during election day, May 10. If you see one, take note and report it. 6. When you have found your precinct number, approach the BEI and verify your identity with them against their registered voter's list. If everything is in order, they will give you your ballot paper and ballot secrecy folder. 7. Before leaving the BEI's table, do a quick scan of the ballot paper -- it should have prints on the front and back side, if you think there are missing information or something is defaced or blurry, inform the BEI immediately before sitting on your chair. 8. If everything looks okay, find a seat and shade ballots based on your prepared list of preferred candidates. 9. The ballot secrecy folder is not an accessory for display. Its purpose is to keep your vote SECRET. Use it! Your votes are sacred. Guard it with your life. 10. Shade the ovals completely. Dots and half-shades will not be counted. 11. Be sure not to overvote (or voting for more candidates than what is required, like voting for 13 senators instead of just 12). 12. Remember that it's okay to undervote ( or voting for less than what's required, like voting for less than 12 senators). 13. DO NOT WRITE ANYTHING ANYWHERE ELSE on the ballot paper. While Smartmatic claims that the PCOS will disregard any/all marks outside the ovals, it is better to play safe. 14. Do not crumple or fold your ballot paper to avoid problems when inserting it to the PCOS machine. 15. When you're done shading, go to where the PCOS machine is and insert your ballot paper. WARNING: No other person is allowed to do the inserting for you! Inserting the ballot into the PCOS machine is integral to the voting process. YOU HAVE TO DO IT YOURSELF. If it takes you longer than usual, the BEI may assist you but it is you who will insert the ballot in EVERY attempt. 16. If you have done everything according to instructions, the machine will get your paper and prompt or display a "Thank you for voting!" message on the small screen to the right side of the PCOS machine. That is your signal that your job is done. 17. The BEI will put indelible ink on your finger as a sign of your participation and as a reminder that you can only vote once. Wear that ink proud and relish the moment (even for a few seconds) that you have THE POWER to effect change -- that there is NO SMALL VOTE -- and that you have all the right to the benefits of democracy because you are an active participant in it and not a lousy, sourgraping and self-righteous spectator sitting on the fence. 18. Ooops! Hold on! Your job isn't quite finished. Guarding your votes is just as important as casting it. So don't leave the results to destiny and chance -- log on to the  COMELEC website and check on the real-time results for municipal level. Report all irregularities and resist all attempts to tamper results. 19. Wait for a few hours and you will have new municipal leaders proclaimed. Two to three days tops  and we should have a new president-elect, vice-president, senators, etc. 20. Don't be a sore loser. Whoever wins as president, as long as the elections are verified credible, support him or her with all your heart. After all, this country's future does not depend on one man alone. There are 94M of us, if everyone will do his/her job, we wouldn't have to blame one person all the time.

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