‘Hindi puede ang puede na’

THE COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS IS PREPARing for the manual count of 30 percent of the ballots, in case the PCOS machines snag. This was affirmed by, of all people, Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales. The poll agency has ordered the printing of manual election returns, tally sheets and other election forms. Thus, both Gonzales and the Comelec confidently bragged that a failure of elections would not happen. Really? Why then did Gonzales propose, earlier on, an unconstitutional “transition government” in anticipation of failed elections?

Faulty assumptions. This Comelec plan (not to be confused with the parallel manual count) assumes that the correct automated ballots will all be correctly delivered to the correct polling places. Weeks ago, it named three unknown companies to deliver the PCOS. Lately, it appointed Smartmatic to deliver the automated ballots. Why was it handpicked without bidding when it has no track record in the courier trade?

On March 14, I explained in this space (and will no longer repeat now) that the logistics of ballot delivery include not just their physical transport, but also their proper printing, vacuum packing, stacking and other nitty-gritty of proper care. The “humidity problem” of the PCOS in Hong Kong could have been easily averted with the proper know-how and application of the logistics of PCOS delivery. This simple negligence in handling the machines does not inspire confidence in Comelec and Smartmatic.

Let me say again that both the ballots and the PCOS machines are “precinct specific,” meaning that they are good only for the particular precinct for which they were specifically printed and calibrated. Hence, if the ballots printed for one town were wrongly delivered to another, there would be a failure of election in both towns, because the delivered ballots could not be used at all.

To stress, the manual count that Comelec is bragging about refers to the manual count of the preprinted, “precinct-specific” automated ballots where voters merely “shade” the ovals opposite the names of their choices, not of the old-style, “generic” manual ballots where voters write the names of the candidates. If no automated, “precinct-specific” ballots were delivered, there would be nothing to vote on and nothing to count. Comelec made it very clear that it was not printing the generic manual ballots.

More problems than solutions. Let me grant arguendo that the automated ballots would all be correctly delivered. Here, Comelec says that in case of PCOS hiccups, the electors will still vote by shading the ovals. Then, they will surrender the shaded ballots to the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI), which will manually count the ballots at the end of election day.

The first problem in this seemingly neat scenario is that the BEIs have not been trained to use the manual election forms, which up to now are still being printed. These forms are different from the familiar forms used in the old manual type of voting.

The second problem is whether the great multitude of voters will patiently queue up to await the replacement of the malfunctioning PCOS with the standby machines, which Comelec said would take about two hours. It is only after the replacements fail to work that the manual method would be employed. By then, voters would have gone, completely flabbergasted. Result? Massive disenfranchisement!

The third problem is the oppressive delay in the transmission of results, given that the PCOS machines would not be able to transmit the manual count. According to the Comelec, the major advantage of the automated system is its speed, boasting that all winners could be known in just a few days, compared with the few weeks of the old snail count. However, the Comelec concedes that when even one precinct in a town or district is manualized, then the full results cannot be electronically speeded up. The final election results could be known only after the last manual count is reported in manually.

The fourth problem is the lack of safeguards in manually counting the shaded ballots. It is so much easier to cheat with automated ballots. All that is needed is to shade the ovals; no handwriting is required. With ballot shading, election fraud is difficult to detect. For instance, a facial examination cannot show that two hands wrote a single ballot, or that one hand prepared several ballots. Neither will there be any occasion to apply the rule on marked ballots. In short, the safeguards inherent in handwritten ballots would not be available in manually counting the shaded ballots.

Not good enough. At bottom, the vaunted manual count of automated ballots in 30 percent of the total votes cast is not good enough; in fact, it is not good at all. It will not assure credible elections because the election results would not only be delayed; they would in fact be suspect and fraud-prone. Worse, they could lead to a dreaded failure to proclaim the winners, prevalent as the problems are in a whopping 30 percent of the ballots.

Am I being unduly strict? Not at all. Our people expect 99.995 percent efficiency from the PCOS machines regardless of the “humidity” or other external problems; Comelec laid down the 99.995 percent standard during their bidding.

When it comes to safeguarding the election, hindi puede ang puede na. Our people have the right to demand and expect excellence and efficiency. After all, Comelec spent P7.2 billion of hard-earned taxpayers’ money on its vaunted automation program.

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