50,000 techies hired to help man PCOS machines
By Nancy C. Carvajal
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines–Although the opportunity to cheat is considered very slim in an automated election, there can be no stopping a desperate and determined candidate, according to a manpower contractor responsible for hiring some of the thousands of technicians who will help run the country’s first-ever computerized elections.
“For a cunning, desperate and sly politician, there are so many ways,” said Johnny Revilla, project manager of Placewell Manpower, a recruitment company contracted by the Commission on Elections to supply information technology personnel for the May 10 elections.
Revilla’s company is one of three recruitment agencies that won the contract from Smartmatic-TIM, the technology provider for the polls, to hire 50,000 technicians to help in the operation and maintenance of the 82,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines to be used in the balloting.
With their crucial role as operators of the machines and their pervasive presence in the polling precincts, these technicians could become one of the avenues for cheating, according to one IT expert who had a hand in the training of the technicians from one of the recruitment firms.
“One of the methods would be to ensure that ballots cast for a certain candidate are invalidated,” said the IT expert who asked not to be named.
“A technician could use a ball pen with leaking ink. A drop of the ink in the ballot is enough for the machine to invalidate it, and the technician could always say it was accidental,” he said.
Small, large, scale cheating
That would be the small-scale cheating, according to the expert.
For the really large-scale cheating, a candidate would have to “pay the board of election inspectors, which are the teachers, and the technician who will insert all the preshaded ballots, which is very hard to do because of the presence of political party watchers,” he said.
The IT expert explained that historically only about 70 percent of registered voters usually go out and vote.
“The remaining percentage could still be tampered [with] if you find the right people,” he said.
But Revilla said safeguards against the dangers of possible cheating have been addressed.
“The technicians are required to issue an affidavit that they are not related to any candidate up to the fourth degree,” he said.
He said the company made sure that the technical support personnel are not linked to political families or parties.
“They should be neutral and impartial,” said Gene Gregorio, the Smartmatic-TIM spokesperson.
Revilla said the requirements for a technician were that he be at least a second-year college student, computer literate and a cell phone owner. Ownership of a vehicle is an added requirement for someone applying to be supervisor.
The technicians are expected to be present in their respective stations at least an hour before the polls open, take charge of technician’s kit, validate all equipment and assist the BEI in the installation and the dismantling of the machines.
The technicians will also be required to make a solemn pledge of love for the country, said Revilla.
He explained that aside from the operation and maintenance of the machines, technicians are also tasked to answer questions and assist voters on correct procedures.
“[But] the technician can only go near a PCOS machine if asked by the voter. Otherwise, they are not allowed to talk or touch, write or press anything,” Revilla said.
Stand-by outside precinct
Smartmatic-TIM explained that the technicians will not be able to influence voters as they are allowed to enter the precinct only if the voting machine needs fixing.
“They cannot. They won’t be in the polling places, unless called by the BEI,” said Gregorio.
He said that of the 48,000 technical personnel to be deployed nationwide to assist the BEIs on Election Day, 42,000 will be sent to the polling places to help fix malfunctioning PCOS machines and transmission devices.
About 4,000 are assigned to be PCOS supervisors, while another 4,000 will be sent to help in the canvassing center. The company has also established a call center staffed by 700 agents to be based in Manila.
Aside from helping Comelec personnel, the Smartmatic technicians will also receive custody of the PCOS machines at the end of the voting.
No protocols yet
The Comelec has yet to set the protocols on how the BEI can summon Smartmatic technical personnel in case of machine malfunction.
However, the general instruction for BEIs noted that watchers from election groups and political parties are allowed to observe anything that is being done to the machine.
Revilla said his company recruited at least 24,000 personnel to serve as PCOS technicians for the polling centers.
The two other manpower firms tapped by Smartmatic-TIM are Manred and Ventureslink. With a report from Kristine L. Alave