I VOTED the other day. The Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machine seemed to work.

Okay, it was just practice. It was not even a mock election like the one held at the Cebu International Convention Center last Friday, the same one that Gibo Teodoro won overwhelmingly to the delight of his hitherto victory-starved fans. Oh, if only the serious business of choosing our President were left entirely in the hands of Cebu businessmen and professionals. Sigh.

Click here for stories and updates on the Sinulog 2010 Festival.

I did not even get to shade the oval-shaped space opposite the name of my favorite candidate. His name wasn’t in the “ballot.”

All I did was insert the piece of paper in the machine.

The PCOS rejected my “ballot” at the first try. Apparently, it failed to impress the machine that it was authentic. However, everything went smoothly on my second attempt, which was a relief because two is said to be the maximum number of times that you’re allowed to insert your ballot in the PCOS.

Power conked out twice at the UCC in Ayala where Smartmatic conducted its demonstration of the PCOS. I thought it was part of the show, to prove that the contraption works even if Veco or Cebeco doesn’t. It wasn’t; what we had was a real outage, the kind that we have been made to endure during the last two days.

Migz, the Smartmatic guy, was, well, a smart guy. He gave us a guided tour of the whole process from the casting of votes to the counting and the transmission of the results all of which are done by the machine, save for the shading. He also explained that the PCOS is equipped with built-in safeguards against cheating.

For example, the machine as well as the ballots, are precinct specific. So if Clustered Precinct A has 1,000 ballots (which is the maximum) but only 800 voted, you cannot use the excess 200 in Clustered Precinct B because the PCOS will reject them.

But what if the excess 200 ballots are all filled up (shaded) and fed into the PCOS of Clustered Precinct A? The machine will, of course, read and count the votes because it is not equipped to determine that the voting/shading was done by the same man or men. The machine may be pure and unblemished but it is still subject to human intervention. Put another way, the machine may not cheat but man can and, most probably, will.

The Comelec has ordered 82,000 counting machines from Smartmatic. About half that number are said to have been delivered, a few more are waiting for customs clearance at the port, and many more are in transit. Target date of complete delivery is the 3rd week of February.

To make sure that they have enough replacements for those that may conk out on or before election day, the Comelec ordered an extra 7,000 machines. Each PCOS is programmed to count a maximum of 1,000 votes. Multiply that number by 7,000, you have theoretically 7,000,000 votes on standby, enough to influence the result of the election for President.

There is a joke that a presidential candidate, who is lagging behind in the surveys, is banking on his party’s machinery to propel him to victory on May 10. And where is this machinery? Still being manufactured in Shanghai?

Of course, it is a joke that we shouldn’t take seriously. I cannot but be worried, however, every time mention is made that the PCOS were manufactured in Shanghai. There is a lot at stake for all of us in the coming elections and heaven help us if someone succeeds in shanghaiing this sacred exercise.

(frank.otherside@yahoo.com)