The Vote Counting Machine or the VCM as it is now called, is still the PCOS (Precinct Count Optical Scan), the counting machine that was utilized in the first automated elections in the Philippines in 2010. For the May 9, 2022 National and Local Elections, we will still use these machines. According to the Comelec main office, around 97,315 VCMs have been refurbished and ready for use and it will be obtaining by lease, around 10,000 additional VCMs from the same provider, Smartmatic, so that each clustered precinct could accommodate 800 registered voters instead of 1000 registered voters, which method was followed in the 2019 National and Local Elections.
The VCM is known as the SAES 1800 plus. It is an OMR or Optical Mark Reader/Recognition. It is one of the counting machines that the Philippines is allowed to use pursuant to RA 8436, as amended by RA 9369, the Poll Automation Law. The OMR scans the ballot, tallies the votes, saves data and when the voting process has been concluded, transmits the results. The other machine that the Comelec is allowed to utilize during elections, is the DRE or the Direct Recording Electronic. This counting machine records votes by means of a ballot display with mechanical components to be activated by the voter by pressing a button or touching the screen. The voter would just choose the person that he or she likes by pressing a button beside the name and picture of the candidate. The votes are then recorded directly
into computer memory devices. This device was used during the ARMM elections but was later discontinued because of numerous questions about its reliability and security. DRE s could help a lot in case of illiterate voters though because of the ease in choosing the candidate. In other countries, DREs are situated in voting kiosks and it is cost effective. It transmits results using the telephone, computer networks or the internet. For now, the Philippines would still be using the OMR.
The VCM has ended the manual counting of votes. In the past, the chairman of the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI), now known as the Electoral Board (EB), reads ballots one by one, while the poll clerk, accomplishes the election returns and the third member simultaneously tallies the votes in the tally board. It used to take them around midnight of election day to finish counting, especially so that the precincts have always been clustered. Because of the emergence of technology, all things, including people have come to adapt to change and that is why the Poll Automation Law was passed. The state would want to make sure that the results of all electoral exercises will be fast, accurate and reflective of the genuine will of the people.
Of course, the automated election system has always been hounded by several groups questioning its reliability. There is a method for the Comelec to check whether the VCMs are accurate in counting votes, it is called the Random Manual Audit (RMA). Around two precincts in every province in the entire country, to be determined by raffle, will be subjected to RMA. A team of auditors (RMAT s) will be deployed in every province to conduct a manual count of a clustered precinct and compare it
with the results produced by the VCMs. In the 2019, it was recorded that the automated elections in that year had the highest rate of accuracy among the previous elections since the automated election system was implemented. The accuracy rate for senatorial votes was at 99.997 percent while for the members of the house of representatives, it was 99.994 percent.
The Philippines is now among the countries that use election technology with Brazil, Belgium, Venezuela and Estonia.
Please don’t forget to watch our Voter’s Education Program at 9:00 o’clock in the morning at the Boses ng Bayan segment on Channel 44 Highland TV and Regional News Group Luzon.
*** Comments/ remarks mentioned in this article are made by me in my personal capacity as a lawyer and not as an employee of the Comelec.