The month of February will be a “telling” month for the success of a fully automated election in May 2010. There are deadlines for two essential tasks: the printing of ballots (delayed for a second time); and, the delivery of all the machines, both due this month — the 7th and 21st respectively. Simultaneous to these will be more tests of more machines in various areas of the country.
On the technical side, the transmission aspect is still worrisome in cases where signal is weak and the need for satellite transmission arises. There is still also the issue of the source code and whether there’s enough time to have it reviewed by third party experts from abroad. And thirdly, the need for personal verification given by the machine of the correct reading of each one’s ballot — a kind of receipt after one inserts one’s ballot into the PCOS machine showing that what one wrote in the ballot is the same as what the machine read.
As for logistical issues, we won’t really know that until much later and as we go along; and regarding some aspects of it, like on-time delivery of machines in each polling place (three days before elections), and deployment of replacement machines in cases of machine bog down, we won’t know that for sure until it happens, or does not happen, come election day.
And then there’s the switching from automated to manual in areas of failure of the automated system. Questions regarding the correct reading of “voters intent” which in the case of the PCOS machines, the calibration of the scanner is to be set to at least 50% “shaded” of the circle beside the candidates name for it to be counted which, in the case of a manual count, will have to be read by the human eye. Can the eye tell the difference between 49% shaded and 51% shaded? There is also the question of the effect of a few precincts in manual mode mixed with automated transmission from other precincts on the canvassing by the servers in the municipal and provincial level.
The training of teachers and “IT experts” in the mechanics of automated voting has also been postponed while the information dissemination to the public has finally began. There’s still enough time to do all these and the Nike slogan is what is most appropriate here: “Just do it!”
Many other questions remain to be satisfactorily answered before we can claim that, yes, the voters will be going to the polls confident that they are participating in elections that will be fair and credible – the main reason for switching to full automation to begin with. There are still a lot of loose ends that need to be tied. In fairness to Smartmatic, they have not been remiss yet on any “deliverables” in their contractual obligations.
On the one hand, we still have enough time to get answers on all the issues raised, and get this right; but on the other hand, elections is fast approaching. For now, two things are required of us: patience and continued vigilance.