What is a PCOS Machine and How Does it Work?
PCOS is an Optical Scanner
PCOS stands for Precinct Count Optical Scanner. It is a machine that reads votes based on pencil markings on a special type of paper. Its maker, Smartmatic gives it the name SAES-1800.
PCOS machines operate like LOTTO machines. When you try to bet for a lotto draw, you mark numbers on a betting ticket. The operator will then insert your bet slip to a machine that will read the numbers that you marked.
A PCOS machine will read ballots instead of bet slips. You will also mark numbers using a pencil. Each number corresponds to the candidates running for the post.
Filipinos are not new to this system. We have experienced the same process in betting for LOTTO, taking the NAT, NCAE and even in Board Exams.
PCOS is a Data Transmitter
PCOS machines are data transmitter. After the voting, the PCOS technician will send the data accumulated by the machine to the server. This is the same process as sending a text message from your cellphone.
There are several ways that a PCOS machine transmits its data. The first one is by GSM transmission which is the same as SMS or text messaging. Another is by LAN or Local Area Network which is the same as your internet connection provided by your telephone company. The last way is the use of satellite transmission which is done in very remote areas.
PCOS Offers Several Layers of Security
As what you can expect with an election automation device, PCOS machines are provided with many security measures.
The first layer of security of PCOS machines is the security key. It needs to be inserted in the machine before it can be operated.
The second security feature of PCOS machines is the encryption of the data. It boasts a 256-bit symmetric algorithm. In order to bypass this encryption of data, you need at least 262,700,000,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity to solve it in one year.
Another security layer is the redundant storage of data. PCOS machines will count the votes and store the tally of the votes. Aside from the count, it will also record an image of the ballot in its data. This data will be stored in its memory before it is sent to the servers.
Worst Case Scenarios for PCOS Machines
Here is a list of worst case scenarios that PCOS Machines might face. For each scenario, I explained the strategy to be used to ensure a successful election.
The PCOS machine has a standby battery in case of a brown out.
No Cellphone Signal
Since PCOS relies on cellphone reception, it cannot transmit data in remote areas. However, it can do this using satellite transmission. If that does not work, the PCOS technician can manually bring the memory card to the municipal server.
Malfunctioning PCOS and Shortage
A shortage of PCOS machines is unlikely to happen since they are numbered and serialized for each precinct. However, there are back up PCOS machines if there is a malfunctioning machine.
Stolen PCOS Machines
If someone steals a PCOS machine, it can easily be traced using the serial number and the server will not accept any signal from those machines.
Hackers and Stealing of Data from Memory Card or Wirelessly
If there is a very clever person who can get his hands on the data, he still needs to crack the 256-bit encryption place on the data. It’s like having a .docx file and you only have Microsoft Word 2003. No matter how you do it, you can’t open the file. In this case, you need much more than MS Word 2007 to read the tally of votes.
PCOS Machines are Secure, People Might Not
The makers of the PCOS machines and its softwares placed many security measures to ensure the credibility of the elections. However, no matter how secure our election may be, it is still the people who will determine who will be the next President, senators or mayor.
If the choice of the people is corrupted, the election will be a mess. No matter how high tech or how secure the equipment we use, it is us who will make this election clean and orderly.