Comelec asked: Where are spare machines?

Comelec asked: Where are spare machines?
By Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Where are the spare voting machines?

Poll watchdog groups Tuesday urged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to disclose the security arrangements for the spare voting machines as they said these could be used to cheat in the May 10 elections.

Comelec officials tried to dispel their fears, saying there are safeguards in place for the security of the spare machines.

The Comelec has leased 82,200 Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines from Smartmatic TIM Corp., the technology provider for the country’s very first automated elections. Only 76,300 of these machines will be posted in the voting precincts nationwide. The rest will be used as back-up in case any break down.

In a letter to Comelec Chair Jose Melo, the Compact for Peace and Democratic Elections (Compact), a consortium of non-government organizations monitoring the elections, expressed its concern that the 6,000 reserved machines could be used to transmit fake election tallies.

Sources of fake data

Compact convenor Etta Rosales said it is important for the public to know where the PCOS machines will be located on May 10 to ensure that “no monkey business is being transacted by these machines from behind the scenes.”

“With no way to check where results are coming from, or whether or not results being transmitted to the CCS are actual results from actual counting machines, spare machines can become unregulated sources of fake data,” Rosales said.

Compact also urged the Comelec to disclose the identity of the people guarding the machines and to open them to public scrutiny, noting that this was one way of preventing electoral fraud.

According to Melo, the spare machines will be guarded by the police and representatives of the political parties and election watchdog groups. All the PCOS machines will be stored in regional warehouses before the elections, he said.

A week before May 10, the machines, including the spares, will be sent to the polling centers for testing and sealing.

Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said a PCOS machine cannot be used to send in fake information as each machine, including the back-up, are tagged and identified to the precincts where they are assigned.

Parallel manual count

PCOS machine information is also embedded in the canvassing center system, ensuring that the transmitted results come from legitimate precincts and machines.

Compact also urged the poll body to conduct a parallel manual count of the voting.

Compact co-convenor Jun Lozada, who “blew the whistle” on the $329-million national broadband network project, said the manual count “is the only way through which we can ensure results are credible and believable.”

“It will serve as a point of comparison as well as a back-up means for checking election results in the event of a significant failure of the automated elections,” he said.

Melo said the poll body would study the proposals for a parallel count. But he said the Comelec is somewhat pessimistic about it as two counting systems for one election would be chaotic and confusing.

“You can’t have two standards for counting,” he said.

Karen Ang

A plebeian who is trying to make small changes in this world.