Last week’s column which tackled our time-motion simulations made a lot of people worry about one of the aspects of the upcoming automated election system (AES): the possibility of a long line of voters unlike what we used to have in the past elections.
The changes that the Co-melec did in the whole process of voting in the AES is not just on having a Precinct Count Optical System (PCOS) machine to count your votes but also in bringing up to five precincts to a single clustered precinct (CP) where everyone will go. The clustering could technically bring up to 1000 voters in a single CP since each precinct would usually have 200 or so voters. As some readers (and the Comelec) pointed out, not all CP would have five precincts together. Some will have less than that.
Yet even in these precincts with less than 1,000 the possibility of bottlenecks still exists.
Our simulation points out two of them: one at the stage where voter interacts with the chairperson of the Board of Election Inspectors and the other at the PCOS machine. For both stations, the chairperson and the voter must finish the step within a very tight 40 seconds.
According to the Comelec’s General Instructions (GI), the chairperson would have to verify the voter’s finger for the indelible ink mark, sign on the Election Day Voter Certified List (EDVCL), authenticate the ballot by signing at the designated space, instruct the voter on how to fill-up the ballot properly, insert the ballot on an available secrecy folder, give the ballot to the voter and then require the voter to sign at the EDVCL. The BEI chairperson have to do all of these seven steps within 40 seconds or less without fail.
Based on the Comelec GI, it is only the chairperson that is mandated to give out the ballots and not more than one ballot is to be issued at a time. With all of these things to do, how can a BEI chairperson take breaks, cast his or her own vote or even eat?
The second bottleneck point would be at the PCOS machine queue. After filling up the ballot, the voter shall then approach the PCOS, insert his ballot in the ballot entry slot and wait until message “CONGRATULATIONS. YOUR VOTE HAS BEEN REGISTERED.” appears on the screen. This step should also be done within 40 seconds. If the ballot has been rejected, then the voter shall return to the BEI chairperson and surrender the ballot.
Some readers asked how come we were able to finish the voting in the past elections. In the past elections, BEI officers would only have to contend with around 200 or so voters. Here we have at most 1,000 voters coming up to a single voting area and queuing to the BEI and possibly have a bottleneck at the chairperson and the PCOS steps.
The onus for speed is not on the voter. The simulation actually shows that the voter can take up until 9 to 10 minutes to fill up his ballot. The human side of the voting process—the BEI chairperson—would be the limiting factor. He or she is expected by the Comelec to do his/her job at speeds that are difficult to maintain at best.
Another issue with regard to the AES is the level of trust voters would place on the counting machines. How would we be sure if our votes are counted correctly? One way is to have the machine show feedback to the voter about the votes he or she has cast. Unfortunately, the Comelec chose not to have Smartmatic enable this feature in the machines.
An indirect way is to check this is to verify the process of how the machine reads and tabulates the votes. To do this, one must be able to see how the program running on the PCOS was made. This is where the concept of source codes come in. Computer machinesgenerally have two parts: the hardware which consist of the actual computer chips and peripherals and the software which makes the hardware do its desired function. An example of a source code (for the simulation program above) can be obtained at www.agham.org/cms/software.
Comelec had Systest labs audit the software a few months ago. Although Systest announced that it has accredited the software for both the PCOS machine and the canvassing system, another issue is verifying that this source code is translated into the proper program that will run on the machines. Afterwards, the issue would then be in ensuring that the same copy of the program will be running in all of the more than 80,000 PCOS machines nationwide.
The Comelec could have saved everyone, including itself, a lot of time and effort if it had required that the source code should have been made open in the first place.