PCOS, other tech recommended for 2016 polls

MANILA, Philippines – The Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) is recommending the reuse of existing precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines and the use of one or more voting technologies for the 2016 national elections.

CAC Chairman Louie Casambre announced the body's recommendations during the joint congressional oversight committee (JCOC) hearing on the automated election system at the Senate on Thursday, August 14. The recommendations were submitted to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Wednesday.

The CAC recommended the optical mark reader (OMR) technology used by the PCOS machines to be the primary voting technology in 2016.

"The electorate and the election officials are used to it already," explained Casambre.

Aside from the OMR, the advisory council also pushed for the use of one or more secondary voting technologies, such as direct-voting electronic (DRE) technology, provided that these inter-operate with the canvassing system. Filipino-developed systems would be given preference, adds the CAC.

CAC strongly suggested that these secondary technologies be used in metropolitan areas.

"We recommend that [Comelec] seriously consider the use of multiple or mixed-techonologies to promote inter-operability and encourage innovative solutions," said Casambre. The CAC also recommends an open public bidding to allow the entry of other technology providers.

The advisory council is also pushing for the implementation of an Internet voting system for overseas absentee voters (OAV).

The CAC will formally present its recommendations to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) en banc on Wednesday, August 20. (READ: Comelec awaits 2016 poll tech recommendation)

On August 26, the poll body plans to make its final decision on the technology to be used for the 2016 elections.

Old and new machines

During the JCOC hearing, Comelec revealed its plan to use a mix of old and new PCOS machines in 2016. (RELATED: Comelec's proposed 2015 budget jumps to P16.8B)

The poll body said that P6.9 billion ($158 million*) would be spent on using nearly 80,000 existing machines with around 6,000 new ones. The price tag includes the services component like the printing of ballots and purchase of ballot boxes, said Comelec Commissioner Christian Robert Lim.

Comelec favors this option over replacing all PCOS machines with new ones. "If we purchase brand-new 86,100 machines, the cost will balloon to P12.9 billion ($295 million)," said Lim.

PCOS machines were used in the 2010 and 2013 automated national elections.

The machines were hounded with various problems, from transmission issues and defective PCOS units and compact flash (CF) cards, to "digital lines" that appeared in decrypted ballots during the random manual audit.

Recently, there was a report of a "big disparity" between the PCOS count and the manual count for the votes received by senatorial candidate Brother Eddie Villanueva in 3 clustered precincts in Nueva Ecija during the 2013 midterm elections. 

Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr admitted that the automated system is not perfect but it is better than the manual system.

"We will try to minimize these problems. If we go back to the manual system, our old problems would return." – Rappler.com

* $1 = P43.696

Michael Bueza

Michael Bueza is a researcher and data curator under Rappler's Research Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.

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