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Why Smartmatic?

/ 12:05 AM January 23, 2015

There’s much ado over the Commission on Elections’ choice of Smartmatic for the automation of our election process. Its PCOS (precinct count optical scan) machines were used in the past two elections and had proven very costly.

Since even before the 2010 elections, I’ve been voicing my preference to anyone who would care to listen, to use desktop computers (PCs) instead of PCOS machines, on the following grounds: PCOS machines are expensive (leased, rented, or bought) and require storage costs; they are election-dedicated machines and do nothing but read shaded votes; and the technical aspect is known only to Smartmatic, so if it decides to manipulate our elections it may do so without our knowledge.

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Instead of the PCOS, I recommend the ordinary PC and the laser printer/scanner/fax machine. (There are printers with as many as five functions in the market today.) The PC and printer will be installed at every precinct. A technical attendant will assist voters in the use of the equipment, witnessed by all candidate representatives at a distance.

The voting process is so simple that even a high school student (voting age) can understand:

FEATURED STORIES

  1. The voter shades his/her choice of candidates for each position, just like in the PCOS voting process.
  2. After shading, the voter positions the shaded paper face down on the printer-scanner.
  3. The technical attendant presses the keys to scan the shaded paper.
  4. He/she presses the keys on the computer to initiate the printing of a ballot. (The ballot will show the position, the name of the candidate supposedly chosen, and a bar code.)
  5. The voter retrieves the ballot from the printer and reviews the contents of the ballot. If it does not reflect all the votes correctly, the voter retrieves his/her shaded paper and makes his/her choice more prominent, or gets another sheet of paper and carefully shades his/her choices. This process may be repeated until such time that the printed ballot bears the voter’s choices correctly.
  6. Once the ballot is correctly printed, the voter folds the shaded paper and drops it into the ballot box. The printed ballot goes into an envelope preprinted with the precinct number and other pertinent information, which will be sealed before the start of canvassing.
  7. The attendant then presses the “confirm” key or any assigned key to show confirmation. (Note the similarity of the process to the ATM, which does not commit without confirmation.) The confirmation process will register the scanned votes and reset the entire process to prepare for the next voter’s shaded paper.

The canvassing process will be similar to that using the PCOS machine. The bar code will be used to scan all the ballots in settling issues involving election protests.

All these are part of the actual voting process. The planning, designing, programming, testing and distribution process will precede it. Distribution will be by portable drive or flash drive, better known as USB, which follows the same security setup of the PCOS machine wherein the program is in the custody of the election supervisor (we have to trust at least someone on this).

The program, once completed, should have a hard copy reviewed by an independent computer programming company with a high reputation for integrity. Once confirmed to do exactly what it is supposed to do, the human-understandable program will be compiled into a computer-readable file for security and retested.

I will admit that any competent programmer can reconstruct the entire program but will need at least a few days, if not weeks or months, to understand and reprogram. Using a programming language that does not yet have a decompiling feature will help a lot in securing the program for a longer period.

The program can be reused for every election or plebiscite by just changing the table of positions and possible candidates for each slot, or the issues in a referendum. So again, the government saves on programming costs.

Using PCOS machines is a waste of money. It does not ensure transparency, does not leave an audit trail, and is much more expensive than a simple PC and printer that would cost, at most, P100,000 for each set, all things (including kickback) considered.

The PCs and printers may be purchased very cheap by bulk every election because these need to replace the aging equipment purchased three years ago. But it will still be less than the costs of purchase and so-called maintenance of the PCOS machines. Just think of it as a multipurpose investment. No maintenance cost will be entailed because the equipment will be turned over to the school that served as the voting precinct or donated to another public learning institution (if the election is conducted in a clubhouse, as in my personal case at Cainta Greenland).

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The purchase contract will require the seller of the equipment to install it, assist in the election, and attend to its maintenance for at least three years with a very strict service level expectation, under pain of not being able to again do business with the government.

If the quality of the machines is high, I believe these can last at least 5-10 years.

Andrew M. Ramoso is a retired computer analyst of the Manila Electric Co.

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TAGS: Commission on Elections, Elections, PCOS, precinct count optical scan, Smartmatic
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