The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will not use the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines in the May elections, the poll body's spokesperson clarified Monday as he made a demonstration of the new voting machines.
Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said in an interview on GMA News' Balitanghali that instead of the PCOS machines, which were used in the last two automated elections, the poll body will use vote counting machines (VCMs), which have larger and color screens that display more information.
Jimenez said the Comelec is planning to still use the old PCOS machines in the 2019 elections, but for the 2016 elections, only the VCMs would be used.
He said that the VCMs come with a built-in "self-diagnosing lens," which alerts a machine operator to insert a cleaning sheet if the lens has already become dirty.
The machines also have a special feature for persons with disability. After inserting the ballot into the machine, a PWD can use the headphones to listen as his votes are read out to him or her by the machine.
Jimenez said that for the May 2016 polls, the UV mark sensors in the VCM would already be activated, unlike in the 2010 elections when they were deactivated "kasi nagka-problema tayo [noon] sa printing nung UV mark so we were worried baka magkaroon ng maling reading at i-reject [ang ballot]."
If a fake ballot is inserted into the VCM, the screen will display an alert message with a big red exclamation mark ("!"), indicating that the ballot is not authentic.
Jimenez also allayed fears of the VCMs getting hacked, saying the encryption had been doubled to 256 bits from the old PCOS machines' 128 bits.
"This is on par with financial transactions online. So kung komportable kang magbigay ng credit card number mo sa online shopping, it's the same level of protection that you can get with this machine," he said.
Jimenez also said the Comelec is in close coordination with the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to ensure the security of the counting machines.
The VCM's battery can last for 14 hours and can run while being recharged. The Comelec would also be providing generator sets to provide lighting in case of power outages, Jimenez said.
On-screen verification, receipts
Meanwhile, Jimenez said the Comelec is still discussing whether or not to activate two features of the machines: the on-screen verification and the Voter Verification Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT), or the receipt printed after a voter casts his vote.
Jimenez said it takes about 13 seconds to print a receipt, meaning the machine would have to run an additional seven hours for the receipts. Voters who might still peruse the receipt could further hold back the line of voters.
Jimenez also said the Comelec is worried the receipts could be used either in vote-buying or in disrupting the elections in a particular precinct.
According to the Comelec, a voter could sneak the receipt out of the polling place and present it to the camp of the candidate who would buy his vote.
"Kung may masamang intensyon, all you need to do is [say] 'Mali itong [nasa resibo ko].' And magsha-shut down na ang proseso," said Jimenez.
The VCMs' on-screen verification feature, meanwhile, allows a voter to check if the machine appreciated his or her ballot correctly with the list of names on the touchscreen.
After reviewing the list of names, the voter may press the green "check" button to cast his vote, or the red "X" button if he finds problems there. The list stays on the screen for 30 seconds.
The Comelec, however, is concerned that others may wish to go through the list for a longer period.
Dos and don'ts
Jimenez also gave pointers and reminders to the voters:
Make sure the ballots, especially the ovals, the bar codes, and the timing marks, are free from any marks before filling them out because it will not be read by the VCMs
Use the ballot secrecy folder to ensure nobody else can see your votes
Make sure the ovals are fully shaded, and the shade doesn't have to stay within the oval
The Ovals should be shaded, not checked, ticked off, encircled, or crossed out
Special markers and pens, labeled with the Comelec logo, will be provided in the precincts
Ballots should be fed to the machine vertically and not horizontally
Jimenez said results for the local elections could be determined within 24 hours and proclamations are expected immediately after that while results for the senatorial race could be known within 72 hours. —Mark Merueñas/ALG/RSJ, GMA News