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Here’s what you need to know about the new PCOS / Vote Counting Machines

Instead of the old Precinct Count Optical Scan or more commonly known as PCOS machines that were used in the 2010 and 2013 elections, the Commission of Election have leased more than 94,000 of new vote counting machines (VCMs) which will be used on the upcoming 2016 presidential election.

With that being said, it’s a must for us to be familiar with some of the key features of the new machines that would hopefully lessen the chaos, anomalies, and other issues that voters and poll body are anticipating during Election day.

Better hardware components

Hardware-wise, the new vote counting machine, the SmartMatic SAES 1800Plus, is better than the old PCOS machines. In terms of performance, the VCM features a faster processor that is capable of besting the PCOS machine by seven folds. This is, in part, also thanks to bigger RAM capacity (32 times bigger than the old machine to be exact) and more storage headroom that’s measured to be 512 times bigger than what the PCOS had.

Vote Counting Machine and VCM and Smartmatic SAES 1800Plus

Lastly, instead of clunky Compact Flash card (CF card), the new vote counting machines will now use a more reliable and less complicated SD card as an external storage media. Moreover, the saving of data on the SD cards that are inside of the VCM will be done simultaneously, instead of having to save it first on one card and then mirroring that on the second one which was required on the old PCOS machine.

Accessibility Features

In order to make the machine more user-friendly to elderly and voter who have poor eyesight, the VCM has a larger and colored touchscreen panel. Voter will be able to review their selections on the screen before pressing on the green button to confirm it.

Visually-impaired voters can also review their vote with the use of an external headphone attached to the VCM. The machine will read out the votes that it has detected on the voter’s ballot and will prompt the voter to either confirm their vote or cancel it

Fail-safe Features

In addition to having upgraded hardware components, the new vote counting machines have other nifty features that would ensure that the machines will be running smoothly during the day of the election.

Vote Counting Machine and VCM and Smartmatic SAES 1800Plus

Screen capture from ABS-CBN News YouTube

One of these features is called Self Diagnostic Lens or SDL. This built-in feature will allow the VCM periodically check the lens scanner for any obstructions that would otherwise limit its capability to scan through the ballot.

The SDL will automatically alarm the Board of Election Inspector (BEI) if it detects that there are artifacts on the lens and would prompt them to insert a clean sheet to address the issue.

Another fail-safe feature of the new VCM is the external battery that is attached to it. The battery charges while it’s plugged in to the wall outlet, but in the case of a power outage, it will be capable of powering up the VCM for up to 14 hours according to COMELEC.


Security Features

The aforementioned technological advancements that the new VCM sound good on paper, but it won’t do us any good if it cannot prevent fraud during election day. Luckily, these VCMs are equipped with various features that would thwart, or at least make it difficult, attempts of screwing with the vote results.

Vote Counting Machine and VCM and Smartmatic SAES 1800Plus

For starters, the VCM operates in a 256-bit encryption, the same standards used on financial online transactions, which means the data that it has is secured. Moreover, these VCMs require three specialized magnetic keys that have a unique digital signatures embedded on it before it can start operation and/or provide the voting results at the end of the election.

Next up the VCM has a built-in ultraviolet scanner (UV scanner) that goes hand-in-hand with the UV marks that are on the ballot. This allows the machine to detect and reject fake ballots that don’t have UV marks on it, and will immediately alert the BEI about it.

The new Vote Counting Machines, and how well it performs, will be an integral part of how the 2016 election will go. Despite all technological advancements that it has to offer, at the end of the day it will still boil down to how COMELEC and other involved parties will properly handle the looming chaos that the upcoming election has in store.

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