Vargas, Mona Angela: Automated Election System – How Reliable is it?


It was the year 2004 when I voted for the first time. I could not remember the exact date but I recall how hot and sweltering it was that day when my childhood friends and I lined up at the Comelec office in Valenzuela City to have ourselves registered as voters for the coming election in May that year. All six of us were first time voters and relatively new members of the nation’s workforce. Earning our own keep since graduating from our respective colleges and universities in 2002. The May 2004 election was a national one so I got to vote for the first time my choice for president, vice president, senators, district representative, party list representative and local officials for my hometown, Valenzuela City. I could not remember who I voted for in the other positions but I can still recall that my president was Senator Panfilo Lacson.

The national election in 2004 was when President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo sought to renew her post and hoped to serve a complete six year term as chief executive officer of the country. She went head to head with the King of Philippine Movies, the late Fernando Poe Jr.. Election 2004 was where President Arroyo was accused of massive cheating. It was that election season when the highly controversial “Gloriagate Scandal” was birthed and. It was discovered much later exposing to the public the very likely possibility that President Arroyo resorted to “dagdag-bawas” to make sure that she will be declared the winner. “The Gloriagate Scandal” is the wiretapped conversation between President Arroyo and Comelec Commissioner Garcillano where Ms. Arroyo was asking Garcillano about the “situation” in Mindanao. The opening line of the Garcillano tapes was the now infamous “Hello Garci?,” which was even made into ringtones by techsavvy Filipinos, who despite the gloom and the gravity of the issue still find a way to make light out of it.

The people, nevertheless, were outraged with the “Hello Garci?” expose. The administration took lashings from the angry opinion writers and radio commentators. Harsh criticisms were thrown President Arroyo’s way from every direction. Some even took the streets and stage huge protests and rallies. The Senate conducted investigations on the matter. It did not help that earlier Fernando Poe Jr. died, allegedly because of “sama ng loob” only months after losing in the election. With the Garcillano tapes, FPJ was practically made a martyr, a victim, the symbol of the oppressed under the regime of President Arroyo. It cost the President an on-air public apology but, as outrageous as it may seem, she remains in power and was never ousted in her seat.

The “Gloriagate” was nothing new. It just drew so much attention and outrage because it is the highest position in the land that was at stake. And at that time many people had already lost their confidence with the Arroyo administration. And also because it was the first time an evidence as incriminating and repulsive as that blew up on a national scale. But “dagdag-bawas” is an age old tradition among our politicians. These days you will never really know for sure who the cheaters are and who are really clean, if there is still one. Philippine politics is so dirty. And our elections had been marred with corruption and even violence as far as anyone can remember. Many people have lost their trust in the election system that a substantial number of Filipinos do not go out and vote on election day. Others have found it easier to just get sucked on the system of corruption and have their votes up for sale. I myself have started to become disillusioned. And while I will be voting this coming 2010 elections, I sometimes think that it will be a futile exercise because whoever gets elected will just do the same thing. And I am still young. Imagine the disillusionment of those who are more advance in age.

But there is always a silver lining as the saying goes. Our leaders took the initiative to reform the electoral system as evidence by the passing of Republic Act (RA) 8436 or the “Election Automation Act of 1997” which authorized the adoption of an automated election system (AES) in the May 11, 1998 national and local elections and onwards. The 1998, 2001 and 2004 elections, however, came and went but we still had purely manual elections. Then on January 23, 2007, RA 9369 was passed amending RA 8436 authorizing anew the Comelec to use an AES. The Comelec took on the challenge and adopted and pilot-tested an AES in the 2008 Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) baranggay elections. With the success of the ARMM election, Comelec felt that the whole country is ready for the full automation of our electoral system. Proponents and supporters of the AES thought that with a computerized election, the problem of cheating will be eliminated because vote tabulations will become faster so that there will be virtually no more room for cheaters to execute their evil plans. “Dagdag-bawas” and other forms of cheating, they say, were possible because of delays in the counting and transmission of votes. This, however, did not sit well with some naysayers and skeptics who argued that AES will not eliminate cheating. On the contrary it will just also mutate into computerized cheating, which is larger in scale and is, therefore, more frightening. So many ugly scenarios have been conjured up by these critics. Some of those were power failure on the day of the election itself, the machines breaking down and the vulnerability of the system to hacking.

The Concerned Citizens’ Movement, led by University of the Philippines law professor Atty. Harry Roque, filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking to nullify the Comelec’s award of the 2010 Elections Automation Project to Smartmatic-TIM Corp. and to permanently prohibit Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM Corp. from signing and/or implementing the corresponding contract-award. On September 10, 2009, in an en banc decision (G.R. No. 188456), the Supreme Court dismissed the petition, upholding the legality of the poll automation in 2010. With that decision, it is now all systems go for automation and the criticisms of the non-believers would now have to be put aside and taken with a grain of salt.

So okay, automated elections is upon us and come May 10, 2010, we will be trooping to our respective precincts and will experience firsthand how to vote electronically. It is somewhat exciting as all untried and untested endeavors are. With the legality of the poll automation already settled, let us now look more closely to the machines and know how they work. For it is only when the machines are reliable, of course coupled with competency and integrity of the Comelec officials and personnel and an educated electorate, that we will have a successful computerized election. We now have to ask, how reliable is the AES?


On December 22, 1997, Congress enacted RA 8436 authorizing the adoption of an automated election system (AES) in the May 11, 1998 national and local elections and onwards. For some reasons, however, the 1998, 2001 and 2004 elections were not automated but still conducted manually. On January 23, 2007, RA 9369 was passed amending RA 8436, authorizing anew the Comelec to use an AES. Sections 6 and 10 of RA 9369 defined the specific mandates of Comelec with regard to automated elections:

SEC. 6. Section 6 of Republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to read as follows:

“SEC. 5 Authority to Use an Automated Election System. – To carry out the above-stated policy, the Commission on Elections, herein referred to as the Commission, is hereby authorized to use an automated election system or systems in the same election in different provinces, whether paper-based or a direct recording electronic election system as it may deem appropriate and practical for the process of voting, counting of votes and canvassing/consolidation and transmittal of results of electoral exercises: Provided, that for the regular national and local election, which shall be held immediately after effectivity of this Act, the AES shall be used in at least two highly urbanized cities and two provinces each in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, to be chosen by the Commission: Provided, further, That local government units whose officials have been the subject of administrative charges within sixteen (16) month prior to the May 14, 2007 election shall not be chosen: Provided, finally, That no area shall be chosen without the consent of the Sanggunian of the local government unit concerned. The term local government unit as used in this provision shall refer to a highly urbanized city or province. In succeeding regular national or local elections, the AES shall be implemented nationwide.”

SEC. 10. Section 8 of Republic Act No. 8436 is hereby amended to read as follow:

“SEC.12. Procurement of Equipment and Materials. – To achieve the purpose of this Act, the Commission in authorized to procure, in accordance with existing laws, by purchase, lease, rent or other forms of acquisition, supplies, equipment, materials, software, facilities, and other service, from local or foreign sources free from taxes and import duties, subject to accounting and auditing rules and regulation. With respect to the May 10, 2010 election and succeeding electoral exercises, the system procured must have demonstrated capability and been successfully used in a prior electoral exercise here or board. Participation in the 2007 pilot exercise shall not be conclusive of the system’s fitness.

“In determining the amount of any bid from a technology, software or equipment supplier, the cost to the government of its deployment and implementation shall be added to the bid price as integral thereto. The value of any alternative use to which such technology, software or equipment can be put for public use shall not be deducted from the original face value of the said bid.”

The AES, however, was not utilized for the May 2007 elections due to time and budget constraints.

RA 9369 also authorized the Comelec to create the Comelec Advisory Council and the Technical Evaluation Committee. The former is empowered, among other things, to recommend the most appropriate, secure, applicable and cost-effective technology to be applied in the AES, in whole or in part. The latter, on the other hand is tasked to certify, through an established international certification entity to be chosen by the Commission from the recommendations of the Advisory Council, not later than three months before the date of the electoral exercises, categorically stating that the AES, including its hardware and software components, is operating properly, securely, and accurately, in accordance with the provisions of RA 9369 and based on defined and documented standards.

Comelec was able to implement an AES in the 2008 baranggay elections in the ARMM. It uses two kinds of technologies: (a) direct recording electronics (DRE) technology in the province of Maguindanao, and (b) optical mark reader (OMR), specifically the Central Count Optical Scan (CCOS) for the rest of ARMM. The DRE uses a touch pad device where voters simply select their choice of candidates by touching selected areas of the touch pad. The voter then gets a paper printout that serves to inform the voter that the system recorded the votes properly and accurately. The OMR, on the other hand, uses paper ballots which contain the names of the candidates and the different races being contested where voters shade or mark the circles corresponding to the names of the candidates they choose to vote for. At the end of the election day, these paper ballots are then brought to a counting center where the ballots are scanned by a machine that detects the voter’s marks and counts their votes. Between the two, the DRE is a more expensive technology. Two different kinds of technologies were used in order to gain experience with using the two dominant automated election technologies as well as gain experience in combining the results from these two systems into a general or overall election outcome.

The success of the ARMM election paved the way for the Comelec to prepare for a full nationwide automation for the 2010 national and local polls, with the lessons learned from the ARMM experience influencing the choice of technology for the 2010 automated elections.

In March 2009, the Comelec released the Request for Proposal (RFP) or Terms of Reference (TOR) for the nationwide automation of the voting, counting, transmission, consolidation and canvassing of votes for the May 2010 elections referred to as the “2010 Elections Automation Project.” It consisted of three elaborate components: (1) Paper-based AES- (a) Election Management System (EMS), (b) Precinct Count Optic Scan (PCOS) System and (c) Consolidation/Canvassing System (CCS); (2) Provision for electronic transmission of election results using public telecommunication networks; and (3)Overall project management. The PCOS system is similar to the CCOS system in that they both use the OMR technology. Their difference lies in how the votes were counted afterwards. Under the CCOS, the voters drop their ballots in ballot boxes after they have filled them up and thereafter, these ballot boxes were brought to the counting centers where the ballots were scanned, counted and canvassed. We can say that the counting of the votes is centralized. Under the PCOS, the counting, consolidation and canvassing of the votes are done at the precinct level. There are no more ballot boxes as the ballots are directly feed into the PCOS machine. The results at the precinct are then electronically transmitted to the next level, and so on. The PCOS dispenses with the physical transportation of ballot boxes from the precincts to the counting centers.

Subsequently, the Comelec through its Special Bids and Awards Committee (SBAC) caused the publication in different newspapers of the “Invitation to Apply for Eligibility and to Bid” for the procurement of the goods and services to be used in the automation project. For this purpose also, Congress passed RA 9525 appropriating P11.3 billion pesos as supplemental budget for the automation project. After the bidding procedures, the Comelec declared the joint venture of Total Information Management Corp. (TIM) and Smartmatic International Corp. (Smartmatic) as the best complying bidder. Pursuant to a joint venture agreement, the two companies caused the incorporation of a joint venture corporation that would enter into the contract with Comelec. The Securities and Exchange Commission issued a certificate of incorporation in favor of Smartmatic TIM Corp. on July 8, 2009. On July 10, 2009, Comelec and Smartmatic TIM Corp executed a contract for the lease of goods and services to be used for the automation project.


As of this writing, the Source Code of the AES has yet to be released so that I could not really describe the exact capabilities of the machine. The Source Code is defined under Sec. 2 of RA 9369 as “human readable instructions that define what the computer equipment will do.” But a reading of the draft of the CAC’s “Post-Election Report on the Use of Automated Election System in the 2008 ARMM Elections,” submitted to the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on AES and the Comelec, as well as the Roque case, will give us a brief description on how the OMR technology works. This system uses paper ballots which contain the names of the candidates and the different races being contested. Voters then shade or mark the circles corresponding to the names of the candidates they choose to vote for. The filling up of the ballots then may be compared to answering test questions in NSAT or the UPCAT. The filled up ballots are then dropped in ballot boxes where they will be stored until closing of the voting and thereafter said boxes will be brought to a counting center where the ballots will be fed to machines which will count and canvass the votes, as in the case of CCOS. Or the ballots will be fed into a machine, which serves as the ballot box and the counting machine at the same time, as in the case of PCOS.

I had the chance to watch on television the “A 2010 Poll Automation Forum,” telecast live by the ANC, a local cable news network owned and operated by ABS-CBN, on September 21, 2009 at 8 pm. It was attended by representatives from the Comelec, Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), representatives of various political parties, representatives from the IT industry, NGOs and concerned citizens groups. The panel was composed of Director Ferdinand Rafanan, Chairman of the Comelec SBAC; Atty. Howard Calleja, legal counsel of PPCRV, Mr. Ray Anthony Roxas Chua III of the Commission on Information and Communications Technology and also Chairman of the Comelec CAC; and Mr. Cesar Flores, Sales Director of Smartmatic International Corp. In that forum Comelec-Smartmatic officials had conducted an actual demonstration on how voters will feed the filled up ballots into the machine as well as how to start the machine and close it after voting ends.

Some members of the audience were asked to participate as mock voters where they were given sample ballots and were asked to fill them up. A public school teacher in the audience was asked to pose as a Board of Election Inspector (BEI). She was given a key that she inserted in the designated key slot, a button was pressed and the machine opened. The BEI had to override the machine by typing a password or a passcode so that the machine will start. It gave out a paper printout indicating that the machine was already open, that it was empty and that it was ready to receive ballots. The mock voters lined up and one by one fed their ballots into the machine. The machine “ate” each ballot that was fed into it and thereafter it produced a paper printout (for each ballot fed) from where the voters may verify whether the machine had correctly recorded their votes. In one instance the machine rejected a ballot because it was an erroneous one. As explained by Comelec-Smartmatic officials, an erroneous ballot is a ballot wrongly shaded such as when the voters had smudged them. According to Comelec-Smartmatic officials, that kind of ballots will be rejected by the machine and true enough the erroneous ballot during the demonstration was actually rejected by the machine.

This particular matter, however, is contentious. In the column of Former Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban appearing in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) on October 18, 2009 (With Due Respect), he wrote that Comelec Commissioner Rene V. Sarmiento explained that “the PCOS will not reject ballots in case of over voting. They will merely not count the position wherein there was an over voting. In a scenario where a voter shades more than 12 senatorial slots, Commissioner Sarmiento said, “the PCOS will not count the votes for the senatorial position because of such over voting but the machine will count the other valid votes cast for other electoral positions.” Former Chief Justice Panganiban opined that it is rather confusing as TV viewers and the live audience at the forum witnessed the PCOS’ refusal to accept the erroneous ballot. He added that Commissioner Sarmiento’s response that the PCOS “will not reject the ballots” was belied by the stark TV demonstration. I could not exactly remember if the erroneous ballot in the demonstration was merely smudged or it has an over voting but I do remember that it was rejected by the machine. If it was merely smudged, then the Comelec-Smartmatic was right in saying that it will be rejected, but if it has over-voting, then indeed, Commissioner Sarmiento was mistaken in his response. Is it correct to assume then that if the ballot is smudged the machine will totally reject it and when the ballot has an over voting in it, the machine will still accept it but it will just invalidate the votes where there is an over voting? The Comelec really needs to clarify this issue. I think it needs to clearly define what constitutes an erroneous ballot and when will it be totally rejected by the machine. It also begs another question, what happens then to the rejected ballots? Can the voter asked for another ballot and repeat the process of filling it up and feeding it into the machine? If he/she cannot do so, then would it not be tantamount to depraving him/her of his/her right to vote? This matter was not addressed in the forum.

When voting ends, the machine will again produce a paper printout reflecting the total number of ballots fed into the machine, which should correspond with the total number of voters who actually voted in the given precinct, and the total number of votes cast for each elective position. The BEI again would have to override it to officially close the election.


The Supreme Court, in its decision in the Roque case, answered the above question in the positive. The minimum system capabilities are provided for under Sec. 7 of RA 9369 (RA 8436, as amended):

“SEC.6. Minimum System Capabilities. – “The automated election system must at least have the following functional capabilities:

(a) Adequate security against unauthorized access:

(b) Accuracy in recording and reading of votes as well as in the tabulation, consolidation/canvassing, electronic transmission, and storage of results;

(c) Error recovery in case of non-catastrophic failure of device;

) System integrity which ensures physical stability and functioning of the vote recording and counting process;

(e) Provision for voter verified paper audit trail;

(f) System auditability which provides supporting documentation for verifying the correctness of reported election results;

) An election management system for preparing ballots and programs for use in the casting and counting of votes and to consolidate, report and display election result in the shortest time possible;

(h) Accessibility to illiterates and disable voters;

(i) Vote tabulating program for election, referendum or plebiscite;

(j) Accurate ballot counters;

(k) Data retention provision;

(l) Provide for the safekeeping, storing and archiving of physical or paper resource used in the election process;

(m) Utilize or generate official ballots as herein defined;

(n) Provide the voter a system of verification to find out whether or not the machine has registered his choice; and

(o) Configure access control for sensitive system data and function.

“In the procurement of this system, the Commission shall develop and adopt an evaluation system to ascertain that the above minimum system capabilities are met. This evaluation system shall be developed with the assistance of an advisory council.”

The SBAC Memorandum dated June 3, 2009, as approved by Comelec Resolution 8608, categorically stated that, based on the submitted report of the SBAC-Technical Working Group (TWG), Smartmatic TIM’s proposed systems and machines passed all the end-to-end demo tests using the 26-item checklist criteria adopted by the Comelec to ensure compliance with the above minimum systems capabilities with an accuracy rating test of at least 99.955%. Below is the reproduction in full of the corresponding answers/remarks to each of the 26 individual items.

1 Does the system allow manual feeding of a ballot into the PCOS machine? Yes. The proposed PCOS machine accepted the test ballots which were manually fed one at a time.
2 Does the system scan a ballot sheet at the speed of at least 2.75 inches per second? Yes. A 30-inch ballot was used in this test. Scanning the 30-inch ballot took 2.7 seconds, which translated to 11.11inches per second.
3 Is the system able to capture and store in an encrypted format the digital images of the ballot for at least 2,000 ballot sides (1,000 ballots, with back to back printing)? Yes the system captured the images of the 1,000 ballots in encrypted format. Each of the 1,000 images files contained the images of the front and back sides of the ballot, totalling to 2,000 ballot side.
To verify the captured ballot images, decrypted copies of the encrypted files were also provided. The same were found to be digitized representations of the ballots cast.
4 Is the system a fully integrated single device as described in item no. 4 of Component 1-B? Yes. The proposed PCOS is a fully integrated single device, with built-in printer and built-in data communications ports (Ethernet and USB).

5 Does the system have a scanning resolution of at least 200 dpi? Yes. A portion of a filled up marked oval was blown up using image editor software to reveal the number of dots per inch. The sample image showed 200 dpi.
File properties of the decrypted image file also revealed 200 dpi.
6 Does the system scan in grayscale? Yes. 30 shades of gray were scanned in the test PCOS machine, 20 of which were required, exceeding the required 4-bit/16 levels of gray as specified in the Bid Bulletin No. 19.
7 Does the system require authorization and authentication of all operators, such as, but not limited to, usernames and passwords, with multiple users access levels? Yes. The system required the use of a security key with different sets of passwords/PINs for Administrator and Operator users.
8 Does the system have an electronic display? Yes. The PCOS machine makes use of an LCD display to show information:
if a ballot may be inserted into the machine;
if a ballot is being processed; if a ballot is being rejected;
on other instructions and information to the voter/operator.
9 Does the system employ error handling procedures, including, but not limited to, the use of error prompts and other related instructions? Yes. The PCOS showed error messages on its screen whenever a ballot is rejected by the machine and gives instructions to the voter on what to do next, or when there was a ballot jam error.
10 Does the system count the voter’s vote as marked on the ballot with an accuracy rating of at least 99.995%? Yes. The two rounds of tests were conducted for this test using only valid marks/shades on the ballots. 20,000 marks were required to complete this test, with only one (1) allowable reading error.
625 ballots with 32 marks each were used for this test. During the comparison of the PCOS-generated results with the manually prepared/predetermined results, it was found out that there were seven (7) marks which were inadvertently missed out during ballot preparation by the TWG. Although the PCOS-generated results turned out to be 100% accurate, the 20,000-mark was not met thereby requiring the test to be repeated.
To prepare for other possible missed out marks, 650 ballots with (20,800 marks) were used for the next round of test, which also yielded 100% accuracy.
11 Does the system detect and reject fake or spurious, and previously scanned ballots? Yes. This test made use of one (1) photocopied ballot and one (1) “re-created” ballot. Both were rejected by the PCOS.
12 Does the system scan both sides of a ballot and in any orientation in one pass? Yes. Four (4) ballots with valid marks were fed into the PCOS machine in the four (4) portrait orientations specified in Bid Bulletin No. 4 (either back or front, upside down or right side up), and all were accurately captured.
13 Does the system have necessary safeguards to determine the authenticity of a ballot, such as, but not limited to, the use of bar codes, holograms, color shifting ink, micro printing, to be provided on the ballot, which can be recognized by the system? Yes. The system was able to recognize if the security features on the ballot are “missing”.
Aside from the test on the fake or spurious ballots (Item No. 11), three (3) test ballots with tampered bar codes and timing marks were used and were all rejected by the PCOS machine.
The photocopied ballot in the test for Item No. 11 was not able to replicate the UV ink pattern on top portion of the ballot causing the rejection of the ballot.
14 Are the names of the candidates pre-printed on the ballot? Yes. The Two sample test ballots of different lengths were provided: one (1) was 14 inches long while the other was 30 inches long. Both were 8.5 inches wide.
The first showed 108 pre-printed candidate names for the fourteen (14) contests/positions, including two (2) survey questions on gender and age group, and a plebiscite question.
The other showed 609 pre-printed candidate names, also for fourteen (14) positions including three (3) survey questions.
15 Does each side of the ballot sheet accommodate at least 300 names of candidates with a minimum font size of 10, in addition to other mandatory information required by law? Yes. The 30-inch ballot, which was used to test Item No. 2, contained 309 names for the national positions and 300 names for local positions. The total pre-printed names on the ballot totalled 609.
This type of test ballot was also used for test voting by the public, including members of the media.
Arial Narrow, font size 10, was used in the printing of the candidate names.
16 Does the system recognize full shade marks on the appropriate space on the ballot opposite the name of the candidate to be voted for? Yes. The ballots used for the accuracy test (Item No. 10), which made use of full shade marks, were also used in this test and were accurately recognized by the PCOS machine.
17 Does the system recognize partial shade marks on the appropriate space on the ballot opposite the name of the candidate to be voted for? Yes. Four (4) test ballots were used with one (1) mark each per ballot showing the following pencil marks:
top half shade;
bottom half shade;
left half shade; and
right half shade
These partial shade marks were all recognized by the PCOS machine
18 Does the system recognize check (ü) marks on the appropriate space on the ballot opposite the name of the candidate to be voted for? Yes. One (1) test ballot with one check (ü) mark, using a pencil, was used for this test.
The mark was recognized successfully.
19 Does the system recognize x marks on the appropriate space on the ballot opposite the name of the candidate to be voted for? Yes. One (1) test ballot with one x mark, using a pencil, was used for this test.
The mark was recognized successfully.
20 Does the system recognize both pencil and ink marks on the ballot? Yes. The 1000 ballots used in the accuracy test (Item No. 10) were marked using the proposed marking pen by the bidder.
A separate ballot with one (1) pencil mark was also tested. This mark was also recognized by the PCOS machine. Moreover, the tests for Items No. 17, 18 and 19 were made using pencil marks on the ballots.
21 In a simulation of a system shut down, does the system have error recovery features? Yes. Five (5) ballots were used in this test. The power cord was pulled from the PCOS while the 3rd ballot was in the middle of the scanning procedure, such that it was left “hanging” in the ballot reader.
After resumption of regular power supply, the PCOS machine was able to restart successfully with notification to the operator that there were two (2) ballots already cast in the machine. The “hanging” 3rd ballot was returned to the operator and was able to be re-fed into the PCOS machine. The marks on all five (5) were all accurately recognized.
22 Does the system have transmission and consolidation/canvassing capabilities? Yes. The PCOS was able to transmit to the CCS during the end-to-end demonstration using GLOBE prepaid Internet kit.
23 Does the system generate a backup copy of the generated reports, in a removable data storage device? Yes. The PCOS saves a backup copy of the ERs, ballot images, statistical report and audit log into a Compact Flash (CF) Card.
24 Does the system have alternative power sources, which will enable it to fully operate for at least 12 hours? Yes. A 12 bolt 18AH battery lead acid was used in this test. The initial test had to be repeated due to a short circuit, after seven (7) hours from start-up without ballot scanning. This was explained by TIM-Smartmatic to be caused by non-compatible wiring of the battery to the PCOS. A smaller wire than what is required was inadvertently used, likening the situation to incorrect wiring of a car battery. Two (2) COMELEC electricians were called to confirm TIM-Smartmatic’s explanation. The PCOS machine was connected to regular power and started successfully. The following day, the “re-test” was completed in 12 hours and 40 minutes xxx 984 ballots were fed into the machine. The ER, as generated by the PCOS was compared with predetermined result, showed 100% accuracy.
25 Is the system capable of generating and printing reports? Yes. The PCOS prints reports via its built-in printer which includes:
1. Initialization Report; 2. Election Returns (ER); 3. PCOS Statistical Report; 4. Audit Log.
26 Did the bidder successfully demonstrate EMS, voting counting, consolidation/canvassing and transmission? Yes. An end-to-end demonstration of all proposed systems was presented covering: importing of election data into the EMS; creation of election configuration data for the PCOS and the CCS using EMS; creation of ballot faces using EMS; configuring the PCOS and the CCS using the EMS-generated election configuration file; initialization, operation, generation of reports and backup using the PCOS; electronic transmission of results to the: [1] from the PCOS to city/municipal CCS and the central server. [2] from the city/municipal CCS to the provincial CCS. [3] from the provincial CCS to the national CCS; receipt and canvass of transmitted results: [1] by the city/municipal CCS from the PCOS. [2] by the provincial CCS from the city/municipal CCS. [3] by the national CCS from the provincial CCS; receipt of the transmittal results by the central server from the PCOS.

The tests, however, as admitted by the Comelec, were done literally in the Palacio del Governador building, where a room therein was made to simulate a town and the adjoining rooms a city, etc. As determined by the Supreme Court, the real worth of the PCOS system and the machines will only be determined after they shall have been subjected to the acceptance tests expressly specified in the RFP: (1) lab test, (2) field test, (3) mock election test, (4) transmission test and the (5) final test and sealing procedure of all PCOS and CCS units using the actual Election Day machine configuration. The final test shall be conducted at least three days before election after which the PCOS and CCS units shall be sealed for election day use.

It would also be worthy to note that per information on the website of Smartmatic, the SAES 1800 model of the PCOS machine, the same one offered by the company and accepted by Comelec, has an accuracy rating of over 99.99999%.


Some people are afraid that the AES is vulnerable to hacking, just like the voting machines used in certain precincts in Florida, USA during the presidential election where George W. Bush went head to head with Al Gore. The fear, however, is somewhat misplaced. As determined by our Supreme Court, there are two differences between the AES adopted by US and the AES we are going to adopt. The first difference is with regard to the Source Code. The Source Code in the Florida precincts was allegedly kept secret by the machine manufacturing company and the American public did not know exactly how the machines counted their votes. The Source Code in our AES, on the other hand, shall be opened for review by political parties, candidates and the citizens’ arms or their representatives. Secondly, in the Florida precincts the machines did not count the votes but instead it appeared that the votes cast have been stored in a memory card that was brought to a counting center at the end of the day. In our AES, on the other hand, the PCOS machines in the precincts will also be the same machines that would tabulate and canvass the votes.

I think either way, whether the Source Code should be revealed to the public or not and whether the PCOS machines itself will count the votes or not, the AES may still be susceptible to hacking. In the ANC forum, a number of IT experts have expressed their fears in the fact that the Source Code will be revealed to the public. They said it would be a dangerous thing because by exposing how the system works, you will be giving the chance for hackers to study it and thought of ways to access it or interfere with it. They said it would be best if the Source Code not be revealed to the public. On the other hand, Manuel A. Alcuaz Jr., a columnist for PDI Business Section wrote and recommended on his July 6, 2006 column (Mapping the Future) that “OMR machines should not have any network connection. The election results should be copied to USB memory sticks, which can be subsequently loaded to a separate PC that will transmit the results to the Comelec canvassing system at the municipality and to the dominant majority parties, as well as the citizen’s arms such as PPCRV and Namfrel.” The ideas proposed by the IT experts and Mr. Alcuaz are exactly the same as that implemented in the Florida precincts. Both parties seemed confident that it is the proper thing to do and yet it proved to be a disaster in the US election. I think it just goes to show that not one method is perfect. Every method is at risk of being hacked. What the Comelec should do is to find a middle ground to balance interests and to find the best possible method that will result to minimal damage and would serve the greater good.

The Supreme Court, however had put much faith in the system when it concluded in the Roque case that even if the AES has its flaws, the system is well-protected with sufficient security measures in order to ensure honest elections. It explained that the possibility of hacking is very slim because the machines are only online when the results is being transmitted, which would only take about one or two minutes. Given the tiny span of time when the AES would be vulnerable (here the high court implied that hacking is possible only when the machine is online and not otherwise), one would need a super computer in order to hack the system.


To address the possibility of systems failure, one of the requirements provided for by the RFP to interested bidders is to submit continuity and back-up plans. Section 2 of RA 9369 defines continuity plan as “a list of contingency measures, and the policies for activation of such, that are put in place to ensure continuous operation of the AES.” Smartmatic TIM Corp. has provided continuity and back-up plans in case the machines failed on the day of the election itself, which includes the provision for 2,000 spare PCOS machines in addition to the 80,000 units assigned to equal number precincts all over the country. The continuity and back-up plans are intended to address the following eventualities: (1) the PCOS fails to scan ballots, (2) the PCOS scans the ballots but fails to print the election returns (ERs) and/or (3) the PCOS prints but fails to transmit the ERs. Should (1) or (2) occur the remedy would be to get a spare PCOS from the 2,000 units, if there is still an available one, otherwise the PCOS from another precinct will be used. Should all PCOS in the given municipality or city fail, then manual counting of ballots and manual accomplishment of ERs shall be resorted to in accordance with Comelec rules. And in the event that (3) occurs, the PCOS may be brought to the nearest precinct or polling center which has a functioning transmission facility.

The worst that could happen is when all the 82,000 machines failed on election day. While this is most unfortunate, the Supreme Court ruled that still there would be no failure of elections in this case. The remedy would be to go back to manual counting of votes and manual transmission of the ERs, PCOS being a paper-based technology. Even if all the machines break down the paper ballots would still be there. Therefore, failure of elections would be a very remote possibility.


The ARMM elections in 2008 were observed to be generally peaceful and orderly as reported by the CAC in their Post-Election Report. The OMR technology was considered a user-friendly technology but some problems and issues were still encountered. The problems and issues were divided into two groups, technical problems on election day and those which were attributed to user experience. The problems which may be applicable to the PCOS system are listed below.

Technical problems on election day:

  1. Rejection of valid ballots that were crumpled or folded and those which contain unnecessary markings and smudges which slowed down the counting.
  2. Discrepancies in the counting of ballots between those who actually voted with results counted. In other words, there were missing ballots.
  3. Incidents of over voting due to BEI’s voting in their assigned precincts. Here the results were invalidated and Comelec had to override it.
  4. CCS was not programmed to accommodate failure of elections.
  5. The machines overheated, stopped functioning and had to be restarted.
  6. Constant paper jamming of ballots.
  7. Transmission problems caused by untried and untested private network installed too close on election day resulting to delay of the transmission and compromise the integrity and security of the AES.

Assessment of User Experience:

  1. Votes shaded in the ballot were exposed to tampering. There were reports of unscrupulous erasures.
  2. Distribution of the ballots was exposed to threat of advance shading.
  3. Voters accidentally scratched or ink-blot the ballots hampering its optical scanning.
  4. BEIs accidentally tore off the bar code of ballots resulting in their rejection.
  5. BEIs lack procedural knowledge on the disposition of invalid ballots.

The above scenarios are actually frightening if you would come to think of it. But there is not much we can do but assume and hope that the Comelec has carefully considered these things and formulated the necessary rules to prevent them from occurring or at the very least to minimize and control the damage when their occurrence is inevitable. Note that the problems above, even the technical ones, were actually due to human errors.


To the question of the reliability of the machines and the AES as a whole, it is very possible to achieve 100% reliability and credibility. After all machines are man-made inventions and there is no limit to what the human mind can think of and do. But 100% reliability and credibility though attainable remains to be an ideal also because, ironically, of human intervention. We can say the same thing here, 100% reliability and credibility remains to be an ideal, a dream, because, again, there is no limit to what the human mind can think of and do. Force majeure or acts of god, sure may affect the proper functioning of the machines or its breakdown but most doomsday scenarios connected with poll automation drawn by skeptics are possible only if humans intervene. As what Mr. Cesar Flores had aptly said in the ANC forum, the problem is not so much with the machines but with humans.

This is of course not to say that the we should just remain hopeful that the machines will not bogged down or that we should fully trust the electorate and be complacent. On the contrary we must be more vigilant in protecting our votes and ensuring that the integrity of the electoral system is upheld at all times. So I think that we should stop being so negative about the idea of going automated and instead focus our energies in helping the Comelec make the 2010 automation a success. We must welcome this change and consider it as a tool that will help restore the faith of the people in our electoral system and ultimately in our government.

The CAC in their Post-Election Report stated that “the consequent gains from using the OMR and DRE technologies were diminished by the inability to use them side-by-side with effective change management. There is a need to make all election stakeholders the subject and not the object of technology. Also, there is a need to prepare everyone for change (both psychologically and technically) before change can truly transform everyone’s mindset. Moreover, a change in the electoral values must go hand-in-hand with the desired electoral reforms. For in these situational realities, the problem of corruption cannot be solved by technology alone but by the individual and collective conversion of voters, politicians and election stakeholders.” (Emphasis added) This sentiment was also echoed by Senator Richard J. Gordon, the chief author of RA 9369, in an article he wrote in PDI dated March 21, 2009 and entitled “ Meeting the Test of Credibility.” He said, “One act of reform, of course, will not transform our electoral system and our Comelec into a haven for suffrage. The important thing, however, is that the reform process will now start.xxxxx With this paradigm shift in election management, public trust in our electoral processes can be nurtured again. And our credibility as a democratic society will be enhanced.”

The best tools to prevent the unthinkable from happening would be the acceptance of change and preparation, training and education of all election stakeholders.


The following reading and research materials has helped me tremendously in completing this paper and supplemented my very limited knowledge on poll automation:

  • Republic Act No. 8436, An Act Authorizing the Commission on Elections to Use an Automated Election System in the May 11, 1998 National or Local Elections and in Subsequent National and Local Electoral Exercises, Providing Funds Therefor and for Other Purposes, December 22, 1997
  • Republic Act No. 9369, An Act Amending Republic Act No. 8436, Entitled “An Act Authorizing the Commission on Elections to Use an Automated Election System in the May 11, 1998 National or Local Elections and in Subsequent National and Local Electoral Exercises, to Encourage Transparency, Credibility, Fairness and Accuracy of Elections, Amending for the Purpose Batas Pambansa Blg. 881, as amended, Republic Act no. 7166 and Other Related Elections Laws, Providing Funds Therefor and for Other Purposes, January 23, 2007
  • A Draft of the Post-Election Report on the Use of Automated Election System (AES) in the 2008 ARMM Elections, submitted to the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on Automated Election System and the Commission on Elections by the Comelec Advisory Council, October 23,2008 (
  • “Meeting the Test of Credibility” by Senator Richard J. Gordon, Philippine Daily Inquirer, October 21, 2009
  • “Automated Election Fraud,” Mapping the Future by Manuel A. Alcuaz Jr., Philippine Daily Inquirer, July 6, 2009
  • Harry L. Roque Jr. et al vs. Comelec et al, penned by Justice Presbiterio J. Velasco Jr., G.R. No. 188456, September 10, 2009
  • “Premature Campaign; Automation Back-up Plans,” With Due Respect by Former Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban, September 20, 2009
  • “A 2010 Poll Automation Forum,” live telecast on ABS-CBN News Channel, 8pm, September 21, 2009

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