Graphics by Carla T. GamalindaTHERE’S no stopping automated counting for the national elections this year.

Allaying fears of a “back to manual” election, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has expressed confidence that the first nationwide fully automated elections would take place with no glitches on May 10.

But given the new technology, critics are skeptical whether automated counting would ensure clean and honest elections. Comelec appears to be convinced that everything is in place.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said voting in an automated election involves “quick and easy” steps that would only take five to seven minutes.

“Not only will the voting cycle be faster but more importantly, the tallying and turnout of results could be done in less than five seconds, which would also make the proclamation of winners faster,” Jimenez, a UST alumnus, told the Varsitarian.

To prove this, Comelec information officer Leo Lim demonstrated to the Varsitarian the voting procedure using a Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machine.

“The changes were mainly concentrated on the counting or tallying processes. The ballot was retained, but is pre-printed [with the names of candidates], making it easier for the voters,” Lim said.

The voting process begins with the voter looking for his or her precinct and sequence numbers on a list at the voting place. The information should be given to the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) along with other personal information for validation.

“Registered voters who have already been validated have their picture along with their thumbprint already recorded in the BEI’s system. However, those who [were not] validated should bring a valid I.D. (identification card),” Lim said.

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Jimenez advised voters to check their names at the precincts days before the election, to avoid hassles during election day itself. As a practice, Comelec deletes names of voters who have not voted for two consecutive elections.

Only when the voter has already been validated will he or she be given a ballot, Lim said.

Lim likened the voting to “touch-move” in a chess game, meaning once you’ve touched the piece, there’s no turning back.

Unlike in manual elections, the new ballot provides a list of candidates for every available position with corresponding oval shapes, which the voter should shade to indicate his or her choice.

The voter should shade at least 50 percent of the oval using a marking pen to be provided by the Comelec.

“Every precinct has the exact number of ballots for each voter so every voter will only get one ballot. If the voter commits a mistake, we won’t issue another ballot,” Lim said. “This is the reason why we encourage every voter to bring a [list] to avoid committing mistakes.”

Lim said the new voting procedure would remove confusion among BEI members in the old system, where voters wrote the names of their chosen candidates in the ballot.

All ballots are “precinct-specific,” meaning a voter cannot use his or her ballot in another precinct. The ballots will have barcodes, which the PCOS will be able to read.

“No one can reproduce this ballot. Just like Philippine [banknotes], there are security markings embedded in the paper made of UV (ultra-violet) ink which could be identified by the machine as fraud or not. If it’s fake, the machine will automatically spit it out,” Lim explained.

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The ballot also has colored borders that divide the positions candidates are running for with the number of allowable votes for each position.  Lim stressed that voters should not “over vote” or shade ovals more than the required number since this would not be recognized by the machine.

For example, voters should shade not more than 12 ovals in choosing up to 12 senators.

The filled-up ballot will then be inserted personally by the voter to the PCOS machine, which will scan both sides of the ballot and tally the votes.

Scanned ballots will then be dropped automatically to the plastic ballot box under the machine.

“The ballot box under the PCOS machine is made up of polyethylene or hard plastic, which has a translucent window and a padlock to keep the ballots secure,” Lim said.

Voters should see a confirmation message from a screen on the left side of the PCOS machine before going back to the BEI chairman, who would apply indelible ink to the voter’s forefinger, and ask him or her to put a thumb mark beside his or her name on the computerized voter’s list.

Comelec has banned the use of cellphones and cameras during election day, supposedly to avoid vote padding and shaving.

Asked if there are any contingency plans should PCOS machines malfunction on election day, Jimenez said a “continuity replacement” will be sent within two hours to the precinct with a broken machine.

The Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM) consortium won the bidding last year for the production of 82,000 PCOS machines worth $7.2 billion to cover an estimated 80,000 clustered precincts nationwide.

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So far, around 33,000 PCOS machines have already been delivered to Comelec, Jimenez said. Based on the agreement between Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM, the firm should have delivered all PCOS machines by February 22.

Should there be a power disruption on election day, PCOS machines have back-up batteries which are “good for 16 continuous operating hours,” Lim said.

“The automated election will push through,” he said. Rose May Y. Cabacang

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