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Comelec to deploy 80,000 poll machines

Posted on: February 24, 2009

By Anna Valmero
First Posted 22:51:00 01/29/2009

Filed Under: Computing & Information Technology, Eleksyon 2010, Elections

MANILA, Philippines—Automation of the 2010 local and national polls will pave way for credible elections, officials said.

The Commission on Elections plans to set up 80,000 units of precinct count scan optical (PCOS) machines for the 2010 elections, said its executive director Jose Tolentino Jr.

The poll body plans to spend the supplemental budget of P11,301,790,000, approved by the House of Representatives Tuesday, to lease the machines.

The PCOS units will be set up nationwide as follows: 14,000 units in Metro Manila, 13,000 units in urban areas, 3,000 units in problem areas and 50,000 units in the remaining areas.

Tolentino said under the law, the Comelec can procure election technology machines via lease or purchase. In the automation plan he presented to the lower chamber Tuesday, the cost of lease is only P8.168 billion, which is 70 percent of the total purchase cost.

The total purchase cost for 80,000 PCOS units amounts to P11.669 billion, at P145, 867 per unit.

The Comelec plans to lease the PCOS machines so they can be tested first during the 2010 elections, said Tolentino.

Tolentino said, quoting Comelec chairman Jose Melo, “When you buy the machine, you are stuck with it forever.”

By leasing the equipment, the Comelec can have a flexible decision, he said. If the equipment is found to be good, it can be bought by paying the remaining balance which is 30 percent of the total cost; if not, then the Comelec can also consider other types of machines for future elections, he added.

When buying equipment, other considerations have to be made including the maintenance costs to ensure the machine is in good operating condition or where to house the machines for three years before the next polls, Tolentino said.

Under the plan to lease the PCOS machines, other costs include P1.166 billion for cost of services to be paid to the PCOS equipment provider for the maintenance, transport and technical support for the machines, said Tolentino.

The poll body allocated P50 million for the transmission of the election results from precincts to a consolidation server and from the consolidation server to municipal, provincial and national board of canvassers. For this, the equipment provider will partner with public telecommunications network providers for data transmission, said Tolentino.

About P200 million will be allocated for the 2,000 canvassing units to be deployed in municipalities, cities and provinces nationwide. An estimated cost of one canvassing is P100,000 for computer, printer and other items like paper and ink. Tolentino said this cost is only an estimate and the poll body expects a lower price once bidding for the items begins.

About 78.17 million is allocated for the cost of new ballot boxes to be used. Ballots for the PCOS equipment will not be folded and will not fit in the old election boxes so there is a need to buy new ones. Meanwhile, old election boxes will be kept for plebiscite elections in municipalities, said Tolentino.

Other allocations include cost of ballot papers, estimated at P1 billion.

Credible elections

Tolentino said there are two factors that can affect the credibility of results in an election: people, and systems and procedures.

“An automated election system can help remove human errors in the systems and procedure associated with counting, reading and tallying of the ballots,” said Tolentino.

Errors resulting from misreading the ballots for example, due to poor handwriting of the voter or poor eyesight of the Board Election Inspector (BEI) are removed in the automated election because the machines will do the computation, consolidation and transmission of results to the consolidation server at the Comelec.

Commissioner Rene Sarmiento said in a separate interview the poll body selected PCOS machines over direct recording electronic (DRE) machines because the former is more cost-effective and provides a paper trail system. He said the United States is veering away from DRE because voters want to have a paper trail of their votes.

Tolentino added the paper trail will also serve as fall back mechanism for Comelec in case of system failure.

While a DRE costs less than a PCOS machine, one DRE unit can only handle 200 voters while one PCOS handles 1,000 voters, according to the paper presented by Tolentino to House members.

Both Sarmiento and Tolentino said the adoption of PCOS machines will facilitate the transition from manual to automated elections system.

“This is revolutionary but is not an abrupt departure from the traditional voting system Filipinos are used to do where they fill up ballots but this time, they shade ovals near the printed names of the candidates they want to vote,” said Sarmiento.

PCOS, according to the Comelec, involves technology where specially made paper ballots that voters will use during the elections will pass through and be counted by “optical ballot scanners.”

The challenge in automated election is for voters to be vigilant in not selling votes, said Tolentino. An election technology like PCOS will accept and count ballots as long as they are genuine, he said.


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