This was from Jarius Bondoc’s column, “Gotcha”, published in the March 31 edition of the Philippine Star, Opinion Section.

It’s like a pusher’s free samples to lure druggies, before hiking prices. Comelec and automation supplier Smartmatic first demonstrated the entire features of the precinct count optical scanner. After the press went gaga and the public gave 81-percent approval, safeguards against poll fraud were switched off.

First to go was a screen that shows a voter how he voted. This assures him that the PCOS is reading his votes right, before he presses “enter” to submit the ballot. The same SAES-1800 model sold to New York had this feature.

Comelec had budgeted P11.3 billion for automation. Smartmatic won the bidding with a incredibly low offer of P7.2 billion. Still, wrong pricing can’t be an excuse to stint on ballot security.

Second was the ultraviolet mark reader of the PCOS. This would have enabled the machine to take in only genuine ballots and spit out fakes. But Comelec-Smartmatic ditched the secret U/V mark because of difficulty in maintaining the right ink mix. Ironically this very intricacy was the deterrent to printing fake ballots.

More riskily Comelec-Smartmatic did away with the U/V reader after drastically changing the ballot box. Originally boxes were to be of transparent polycarbonate, so voters can see the insides. Comelec-Smartmatic shifted to opaque since sunlight allegedly would obscure U/V marks. Then they removed the U/V feature, but did not revert to see-through boxes.

Meantime, the National Printing Office is printing ballots using PDF (portable document format), readable by any plain computer. Sans the U/V mark, a poll-cheat who gets hold of the PDF file and ballot barcode can mass-produce it. Boards of Election Inspectors cannot verify authenticity of filled-up ballots being fed to the PCOS due to vote secrecy laws. Filled-up ballots can be stuffed into the opaque boxes before precincts open on Election Day.

Third, probably not last, Comelec discarded the BEI’s digital signatures prior to transmitting results to canvassing centers. It gave no reason for this. But experts say it has to do with the inability of Smartmatic subcontractors to recruit info-technicians and train public school teachers who will sit as BEIs.