The current brouhaha over the election automation budget provides a glimpse into the major maneuvers among presidentiables and their campaign generals. It seems that the technology proposed by the Comelec Advisory Council on Automation pose big problems to all cheaters, whether at the national or at the local level.
The Precinct Count Optical Scanner (PCOS), a variant of the Optical Media Reader (OMR) technology, will accept a filled up-ballot directly from the voter in the precinct, digitize it, and immediately count it. At the end of the voting period, the PCOS machine will print out copies of the election return, and–after the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) digitally sign it–sends the election return to a central database. In turn, the municipal, provincial, and national Board of Canvassers and Congress itself will download the pertinent election returns and certificates of canvass for use in canvassing within their jurisdiction and for proclamation of the winners. Copies of the election return are available at the precinct level (30 copies will be printed!), posted in the precinct, and made available for viewing through internet to accredited parties, including citizen arms and the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP). The general public can monitor on real time the national and local count in the internet or through the various media.
In the PCOS system, there are precious few chances for cheaters to intervene directly in the system. Security measures will be in place to thwart intrusions, hacking, or preprogramming of the machines. The more likely time for electoral fraud will be during the period before the voter votes. However, this will be very limited and thus hazardous to the cheaters.
If full automation through PCOS is thus desirable, why all the brouhaha about alternatives–ranging from hybrid systems, partial automation, or a combination thereof right up to the non-implementation of automation and maintaining the unreliable manual system? Why actually pass an automation law and then–using basically the same arguments against the manual system–strike it down.
Legislators are in the position to push alternatives because they wield the approval of the supplementary budget for automation as a sword of Damocles over the Comelec. It is reprehensible for legislators who passed the law on automation and gave the Commission on Elections and its advisory council the mandate to choose the technology to suddenly want to decide the technology by their selves.
There are sincere people who advocate for alternatives. However, it is simply tempting to speculate that there are those who want no or limited automation because of the difficulties involved in committing electoral fraud in the new system.
All presidentiables, as well as the whole Congress and the political parties, should support full automation. It is the major effort in the 2010 national and local elections to level the playing field and ensure the credibility of the election results, particularly in the presidential race. I say again: nobody wants–including the winner–a repeat of the controversial 2004 presidential elections.