Smartmatic admits error in configuring PCOS flash cards

Posted at 05/04/2010 4:11 PM | Updated as of 05/04/2010 8:41 PM

MANILA, Philippines – Human error led to the failure of precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines to correctly read votes for local positions during Monday’s mock polls, an official of poll machine supplier Smartmatic-TIM admitted Tuesday.

Smartmatic Southeast Asia president Cesar Flores said the company failed to properly configure compact flash disks of the PCOS machines to properly read the votes for the local races because of a difference in the layouts of the national and local ballots.

He said the PCOS machine incorrectly read the local ballot “because the local ballot has double spacing. If you look at the national [ballot], they are all single spaced.”

“If you mark the first row, it will be read correctly but for some reason, the configuration is telling the machine that the candidate on the second row is actually on a third row [because of the space],” he said in a press conference at the Commission on Elections (Comelec) office in Manila.

Flores said Monday’s mock polls showed that the PCOS machines could only read votes for local candidates at the top of the lists.

“It’s a line on the configuration that was supposed to say ‘Major double-space.’ It’s a human error when the configuration was done and it has already been detected,” he said.

Flores said Smartmatic-TIM has received permission to test its reconfigured compact flash disks on the more than 2,200 layouts of ballots for the nationwide elections on May 10.

Under the new automated system, ballots for each municipality and district in the country will have a specific layout to show the list of candidates for local positions.

Flores said Comelec gave Smartmatic-TIM an extra 2 to 3 ballots per layout, which will be shaded and tested with the new configuration file.

He added, however, that if errors continue to happen in all the layouts, the company will be forced to recall all 76,000 flash disks that have already been deployed.

“We have 2,200 layouts if you mix municipalities and districts. We only need to test the 2,200 layouts. However, if all the jurisdictions will be affected, that means we will have to reprogram all 76,000 compact flash disks,” he said.

He added that the company has 240 people in Cabuyao, Laguna that could work on the reconfiguration of the flash disks immediately.

'Changed ballot design led to error'

In an interview on ANC on Tuesday, IT expert Lito Averia of AES [Automated Election System] Watch said the failure of PCOS machines to read votes for local positions during mock PCOS tests in various municipalities could be traced to the design of the ballots.

Averia said Comelec decided to change the listing of the names on the ballots from a vertical list to a horizontal list.

Averia said the PCOS machines are configured to read which ovals are shaded on the ballot based on the "intersections of the longitude and latitude of the ballot."

"The machine will expect to check if the ovals are shaded. I think that set of data was not properly configured or properly prepared. The machines read the ballots in 2 phases, the national and local. When the machines read the local, I think it got lost somewhere. It's not the configuration of the machine. The machine is somewhat confused because you're giving it the wrong directions. It is looking here when it should be looking somewhere else," he told ANC's Dateline Philippines.

Averia said Smartmatic-TIM has to recall all compact flash cards that have been deployed and reconfigure them to read votes for the local races in all 1,630 municipalities and districts in the country.

"They have to prepare the proper data for each ballot configuration. The Comelec has 1,630+ ballot configurations corresponding to the number of municipalities and districts. They have to prepare the correct data and put that into the flash cards. That is easy to do. The biggest challenge is logistical, recalling all those compact flash cards that were deployed, bringing them back to Smartmatic for reconfiguration and then delivering them back to the polling precincts. That would be the major challenge," he said.

Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin, co-chairman of the Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Elections, said the configuration error did not mean that votes that were supposed to go to one candidate were added to another.

“If you had the misfortune of being an [Ernesto] Mercado or [Junjun] Binay, then it wouldn’t read [your votes] but it would read the [Erwin] Genuino which is G. It didn’t read the vote of Mercado and give it to Genuino,” he said.

An abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak report said vote counting machines in at least 4 localities failed to correctly read the ballots and tally the votes for local positions during Monday’s mock elections. (Read: Local bets get zero votes as PCOS machines malfunction)

Some candidates for local positions in Pasay City; Makati City; Sto. Tomas, Batangas; and Mamburao, Occidental Mindoro got zero votes despite the fact that their poll watchers accomplished the ballots. The malfunctioning of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines spared no political parties and didn't appear to target particular positions.

The malfunctions prompted Comelec to postpone all further testing and sealing of the PCOS machines throughout Luzon (including the National Capital Region), Visayas and Mindanao to May 7. (Read: Errors force Comelec to reset PCOS testing)

The poll body also recalled a total of 7,555 memory cards or flashcards deployed in Metro Manila, which were supposed to be used in the May 10 elections.  (Read: Comelec orders recall of faulty memory cards)