The star of the recently concluded automated polls in the Philippines is the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) voting machine. There were many Filipinos who doubted the durability and reliability of the PCOS but in the end the machine performed above expectations.
A major reason why many groups were skeptical about the capability of the PCOS was due to the fact that the machine was not pilot-tested on a nationwide level. It didn’t help that PCOS machines malfunctioned during several mock elections in selected areas. A week before the elections, it was discovered that the compact flash cards to be inserted into the PCOS contained an erroneous software command that would affect the ability of the machine to yield accurate results. Because of this major flaw, the poll body had to reconfigure all the compact flash cards to be used in the polls. This emergency scenario almost caused the postponement or even cancellation of the elections.
There was a high turnout of voters on Election Day because Filipinos were not just excited to vote for a new president; many were also curious to see the PCOS machine. It is amusing to note that some voters mistook the PCOS for a big trash can. An elderly voter even thought that it is a washing machine.
About 400 PCOS machines crashed during the elections but they were immediately replaced. That only 400 out of more than 70,000 PCOS machines deployed throughout the country malfunctioned on Election Day means that majority of the PCOS machines worked well.
Filipinos were amazed at the speed and efficiency of the PCOS to accept the ballots inserted by the voters and store the voting data. Filipinos became even more impressed when the PCOS successfully counted the voting results in a clustered precinct in just a few seconds. After the counting, the PCOS was again used to electronically transmit the votes to the national tabulation center. It is an understatement to declare that the PCOS played a major role in making the country’s first auto polls a very successful and peaceful endeavor.
The PCOS machine is already a legend in Philippine election history but will the Philippines use the PCOS machines again in the next elections? Or will the government continue to look for a better voting machine?
Filipinos may be satisfied today with the performance of the PCOS but once the euphoria has died down maybe they will remember the flaws of the PCOS machine which affected the credibility of the automated election system. Maybe Filipinos will cite the inadequate security features of the machine and the awkward ballot design that was used in the elections. Aside from the inconvenience of filling out a 2.5 meter long ballot, voters had to be careful in shading the names of candidates because the PCOS would reject a ballot that contains unnecessary markings.
Some suggested that a more appropriate voting machine for the Philippines should have similar technological features used by ATM banks. Voters will just touch a screen to vote for a candidate or party. They don’t have to read the names of candidates because the pictures and logos of candidates and parties are uploaded in the machine. Some even suggested that internet voting or phone voting should also be considered by the government.
There are more advanced voting machines used around the world and the government should seriously consider looking for better alternatives than PCOS. If the government opts to use the PCOS again, it should correct the weak features of the machine. More importantly, the poll body should start training its personnel so that it will be more competent in handling the next auto polls.