House suffrage committee grills Smartmatic officials on PCOS’s credibilityBy Karen Boncocan
MANILA, Philippines—With the 2013 elections in the offing, the question remains: are the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines accurate?
The House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms grilled anew Smartmatic’s Marlon Garcia who sought to prove that the poll machines bought for roughly P1.8 billion by the Commission on Elections was 100 percent accurate.
Committee chairman Dasmariñas City Representative Elpidio Barzaga Jr. told lawmakers during the hearing that as agreed upon during their last meeting over the said machines, Smartmatic will demonstrate using the machines and prove that its results were accurate.
But discussions dragged on as more and more questions were thrown at Garcia and Comelec representative Lawyer Esmeralda Amora-Ladra.
Garcia was asked about how markings on ballots could be considered by the machines as valid votes, whether “over voting” or “under voting” were valid or not, and made to explain its one year warranty and 10-year support service for the country’s PCOS machines. Throughout the discussions, he reiterated that the machines they provided Comelec were 100 percent accurate.
“Over voting” was invalid, said Garcia, explaining that they had no way of knowing by which candidate the voter exceeded. “Under voting” would still be considered, he added.
Garcia also told ACT Teachers Representative Antonio Tinio that they would either replace or repair for free defective PCOS machines during the one year warranty while for 10 years, they would provide parts and support “for a fee.”
He said that Comelec and Smartmatic have yet to make an agreement on the said fees once the warranty ends. The Smartmatic representative further likened PCOS machines to ATMs, saying that “they can become very old but they will still be very reliable.”
Garcia maintained that their accuracy was 100 percent and that the discrepancy with the manual audit on votes was possibly due to the different interpretation of humans and the machines.
PCOS machines, Barzaga said, relaying information from Smartmatic Asia and Pacific president Cesar Flores, needed for the markings on the ballots to constitute more than 50 percent to be considered.
Garcia said that while markings may have been considered valid in manual auditing, the machines may have sensed that these were invalid.
Akbayan Representative Walden Bello in particular wanted to know whether Comelec was to the PCOS machines for 10 years saying that his “worry is that with the speed with (how technology) changes, are we bound to Smartmatic for 10 years?”
Ladra told him that it was the spare parts support that was being provided for 10 years, agreeing with Bello that the country may change its machines if better ones are made in the future.
Garcia had no other answer to Cavite Representative Jesus Crispin Remulla’s insistence that judges and Comelec consider the photo image of ballots in deciding cases of alleged tampering of ballots.
He told Remulla that they did not design the PCOS machines to capture such images, saying that “it can be done but it requires work. We might need hardware changes.”
Remulla however went on about such a feature being useless if it will not be considered by those deciding the cases to which Garcia said “I can’t tell judge what to do. He (the judge) might be wrong but that is not part of our work.”
Remulla urged the Comelec to look into such cases and rule on them quickly, saying that he hoped those running for election would not win such cases by being “in cahoots with Comelec.”
Ladra said that their officials were trying to see to the cases but could not follow everything at the same time.
When Garcia was finally asked to start the demonstration, Barzaga said that to test the machines, lawmakers needed to participate in the mock elections and vote on 10 ballots each.
To this Ilocos Norte Representative Rodolfo Farinas said in jest “just for the record, this is not how it is usually done.”
In a separate interview, Eastern Samar Representative Ben Evardone pointed out that it was not the poll machines which had problems but its limited number.
Voters were being disenfranchised by Comelec’s method of clustering several communities into a single precinct.
He said that what should be done instead was for Comelec to use its savings to purchase more PCOS machines. Inability to do so will cause many voters to be unable to vote during the 2013 midterm elections, he added.
Orignally posted at 1:39 pm| Tuesday, July 24, 2012