The 2010 Philippine National Elections is now 3 days away. The PCOS (Precinct Count Optical Scan) machines have been delivered, the official ballots have been printed and everything seems to be set for the automated elections on Monday, May 10, 2010. However, during the first wave of test polls in polling precincts throughout the country, a serious problem occurred.
As mentioned in the different news programs on Philippine local news channels (Channel 2 – TV Patrol, Bandila, Channel 7 – 24 Oras, Saksi), the software in the compact flash drives of a considerable percentage of PCOS machines failed to accurately count the votes. The election staff counted the votes manually and the results were totally way off from the machines’ tally. There were a lot of candidates who did not receive any votes even though they really did have votes on the ballots which the manual count confirmed.
Smartmatic, the company who got the contract for the automated elections, stated on the news that there was a problem with the software which was in the flash cards. The best way to go around it was to recall the flash cards with the defective software and update the software and send new flash cards for the PCOS machines.
True enough, when the election officers tested the flash cards with the new software, the votes tallied. The problem now is that the elections is just a few nights away and the flash cards (76,000 of them as reported) may not be able to reach the remote areas of the Philippines on time. It’s probably impossible to count the votes in some areas within 24 hours from the start of the elections due to this unfortunate development.
Well, in my opinion as a computer programmer, I am just wondering why this happened. If I printed the ballots, I should have programmed the software to read the ballots accurately. They’re both my design anyway so it’s shouldn’t pose much of a problem. It’s like knowing your own handwriting. And as part of software development, the testing and debugging phase is one of the most important stages. As for the case of the PCOS machines and the defective software in the flash drives, it should have been tested thoroughly before sent out throughout the precincts in the country.
It really compromises the people trust in the integrity of the automation of elections. This is especially true due to the living conditions here in the Philippines and the people believe that whoever they are voting for can live up to their expectations and that an automated election system will be more effective than manual vote counting. But for now, it is not time to blame anyone but time to prepare and make sure that the elections will be peaceful and successful.