Comelec: Don't make a mockery out of mock polls

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is reluctant to hold another mock elections to test the integrity of the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines because participants are not taking the initiative seriously, an official told the joint congressional oversight committee on automated elections on Thursday.

Responding to a query posed by Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares whether the agency will have another mock elections, Comelec executive director Jose Tolentino Jr. explained that the agency has not made a decision because participants “make a mockery” out of the mock elections.

“The discussion is, why should we conduct another simulation when the participants only make a mockery out of it? Like putting a smiley, putting one big line out of the ovals just to find out if the machine will read it,” Tolentino said.

“We never had an instance where the shading is proper…just to find out how the PCOS will read that particular mark,” Tolentino lamented.

Tolentino also added that the commissioners are still divided whether the poll body should have another mock polls before the May elections.

“The matter is still being discussed with the commissioners. We are divided,” he told committee co-chairman Dasmarinas Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr.

Tolentino noted that even when the Comelec conducted simulation exercises in the House of Representatives, the participants tested how the PCOS machines would determine ovals which are not fully shaded.

“When we conducted the simulation in Congress, the participants really wanted to find out what will happen if they place a dot on the oval… others placed “X”, we have to darken the oval fully,” he recalled.

During the hearing, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano reiterated his call to the the Comelec to ensure the integrity of the counting and canvassing of votes following reports of errors during the mock elections last month.

“You do not have to convince us. We have to convince the public…. Right now, you can understand that there is a gap in the communication,” Cayetano said, noting that while the Comelec vows that it is all-systems go for the May midterm polls, some groups are still not convinced that there will be no glitches on the automated polls.

Tolentino revealed that the Comelec will still test the integrity of the PCOS machines “not earlier seven days before elections, and not later than three years before (the polls).

He said that the test will be held in selected classrooms that will be used as poll precincts. The Comelec will use 10 ballots that contain the names of the candidates.

“Except that there will be a mark that it is a final testing and sealing ballot,” Tolentino said.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. lamented that the Comelec has not cleared the issues raised on the lack of source code for the PCOS machines. He said it was wrong for the Comelec to rely only on binary codes since the source codes are needed to verify entries in the machines.

Cesar Flores,  president of the Smartmatic Asia-Pacific that supplied the PCOS machines, assured the integrity of the automated polls come May.

“(The) 2010 elections were accurate and secure, [the automated elections] will continue to be,” he told reporters after the hearing.

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