There were some glitches but no major problems.
Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. acknowledged only “minor” problems in the dry run for the May 2013 elections that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) conducted on Saturday in 10 selected areas across the country.
The glitches mainly involved the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines not starting immediately or paper ballots jamming.
“We saw no major problem. We had some initial minor problems but everything has settled down,” Brillantes told a press conference at P. Bernardo High School in Quezon City, one of the main voting centers.
“It’s speculative but maybe since the PCOS machines were last used in the 2010 elections, or two-and-a-half years ago, we needed to heat them up a bit,” he said.
Eric Alvia, secretary general of the election watchdog National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), had a more extensive list that included conflicting voters’ lists, PCOS machines with missing clips, rollers that did not work, technical staff who did not report early and low turnout.
Mock polls were held in 10 selected places across the country from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. It involved 1,639 potential voters in 11 polling precincts.
According to Brillantes, one of the minor problems encountered was the “initialization,” or starting up of the PCOS machine at the University of the Philippines Integrated School in Diliman, Quezon City.
“And then when it started, the ballots would not enter. The machines did not absorb them. So, what happened was that there was an issue of whether the ballots were too thick,” he said.
A new PCOS machine was brought in to replace the one that malfunctioned.
“We will look into the extent of this problem. We think at this point that it affects that individual machine only,” said Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez.
“We are also looking at the possibility that the ballot was rejected because it was somewhat crumpled at the edges so maybe it did not fit the roller. We have to check the tolerance of the roller,” he added.
Jimenez said the Comelec would investigate the glitches so they would be avoided during Election Day.
He pointed out that as there are more than 81,000 machines and only 76,000 voting precincts, the excess could very well be used for contingencies.
Alvia said the reported incidents of ballot papers jamming in the PCOS machines was a timely reminder for the Comelec.
“From Feb. 4 to April 25, we print the official ballots. Now is the time to make sure the grade or quality of the paper is appropriate for the PCOS machines,” he said.
“We don’t know if maybe the humidity might affect the thickness, or how you store it, how you package it, you name it. Even the grade of the paper, it’s a science in itself. We have to pay attention to those things,” he added.
Alvia said incidents of jammed ballot papers were reported at the UP Integrated School, P. Bernardo High School, and in Singalong, Manila.
He said the principal of P. Bernardo High School had told him of having had to assemble the kit for the PCOS machine on their own because there was no technical staff present.
No technical person
“There was an absence of technical personnel from the vendor. They were not here. The technical person arrived at 7:15. You really have to be present early on,” Alvia said.
He noted that the teachers, whom he surmised must be “really seasoned and trained,” knew how to deal with the problem and kept calm.
Alvia noted that as of 10 a.m. on Saturday, or three hours after the precincts opened, only 27 out of the 750 voters had cast their ballots in the mock polls.
He also noted that the list of voters posted outside the precinct was different from the one that the Board of Election Inspectors held so that at least one voter had some difficulty locating her name.
Alvia said Namfrel and other volunteer groups were waiting for the Comelec to release the certified list of voters (CVL) in two weeks.
“We can help. Namfrel and the other groups can help to really authenticate and validate if the CVL that Comelec national produces is one and the same as what the local Comelec has. It’s an area where fraud could occur,” he said.
Alvia also suggested that the Comelec avoid using thermal paper in future elections.
“You can use ordinary paper. An ink printer may be mechanical but the ink would last. If you expose thermal paper to UV (ultraviolet) light, after probably one day you won’t be able to read (what’s printed on it),” which defeats the purpose of using it as a paper trail, he said.
Minor glitches also marred Saturday’s mock elections at the UP Integrated School. The Comelec had to replace the PCOS machine with a backup unit after the first one would not accept any of the test ballots that voters had filled up.
The second machine refused to accept the first three ballots but the succeeding ones went through.
Jimenez said this may have been because of the way the voters had shaded the circles or the paper may have been creased.
The polls at the UPIS building in Barangays UP Campus and in Bagong Lipunan ng Crame were held the whole day, with the results transmitted in the evening.
UP President Alfredo Pascual, who witnessed the event, said the cluster has around six precincts with some 882 voters. The voters were mostly from the Daang Tubo area and the student dormitories near Katipunan Ave.
“This is part of our voters’ education program with the Comelec. We provide them with the venue,” Pascual said.
At one point, the UP president quipped: “There are more media people than voters!”
Some of the mock voters complained about experiencing difficulty using the machines.
Oscar de Vera, 61, said it was his first time to vote using the PCOS machine.
“At first the machine did not accept it because I did not shade the entire circle. When I filled it in properly, the machine accepted my ballot,” he said.
Another voter, Janice Mejia, claimed that the new machine was too slow in processing the ballots. “Some of the people were already getting angry with the delay,” she said.
Alex Marpuri, spokesperson of the Comelec in Camarines Sur, said the mock polls at the Iriga Central School went well but not at the Sta. Teresita Elementary School, also in the same city.
“The signal in Sta. Teresita was so weak the counting machine failed to send the result at 12 noon Saturday, delaying the completion of the total count in the provincial mock election,” said Marpuri.
He said the Comelec has a contingency gadget to boost weak signals but if it fails, the memory card would be brought to the nearest counting machine to transmit the result.
In a worst-case scenario, the memory card would be brought directly to the municipal or city Comelec office, he said.
Marpuri said at the Antipolo Elementary School in Bato town, the PCOS machine conked after counting 20 ballots. But after a contingency PCOS machine was brought in and the total of 50 votes were all counted and results successfully transmitted to the municipal and provincial Comelec offices.
Turnout was low in Dumaguete City and problems occurred in the transmission of voting results.
Still, Dumaguete City Election Officer Carmencita Cañares declared the mock polls conducted in two schools a success.
Renyboy Alay, the first “mock” voter to walk in one hour after the precinct opened at 7 a.m. immediately had questions for the precinct poll chair, Maria Fe Ladero.
“I don’t know the people in the ballot. I was told by our barangay captain to come in here, I did not know that I am voting for the election,” he said.
Ladero explained to him that the names were those of foreign singers and actors and not of candidates for the May 13 polls since the exercise was just a mock election.
Only 10 voters showed up, prompting the Comelec to ask the members of the media covering the event and individuals who came to witness the conduct of the mock election to vote, bringing the number of voters up to 49.
But a problem occurred with the transmission of results because of weak signal. Comelec personnel brought the machine out of the classroom into the hallway and the results were transmitted and received by the city board of canvassers.
Lawyer Teopisto Elnas Jr., Comelec executive director for operations, explained that problems in transmission were to be expected as the signal used in the mock polls was the same bandwidth as that being used by telecommunications companies in sending SMS and connecting calls.
During the actual elections, however, a special bandwidth will be used specifically for the transmission of election results, he said.
In Cagayan de Oro City, there was a problem in the transmission of results as the communications module of the two PCOS machines failed to connect to the mobile communications facilities of Globe Telecom and Smart Communications.
Commissioner Grace Padaca said the Comelec had anticipated that problems would be encountered, which was why the mock elections were held. She said the Comelec’s information technology staff would now have enough time to find solutions.
Aside from transmission problems, the Comelec also expected overcrowding in voting precincts similar to the 2010 experience, Padaca said.
She said one solution being suggested was to put up holding rooms next to the voting precincts so that voters would not have to line up or mill around while waiting for their turn to cast their ballots.
She said the poll body was studying the possibility of turning some of the classrooms into holding rooms.
However, she said the Comelec was apprehensive that voters in the holding rooms might be preyed on by persistent political campaigners or worse, thieves. With reports from Julie M. Aurelio and Pamela Faith Musni in Manila; Juan Escandor Jr., Inquirer Southern Luzon; Carine M. Asutilla, Inquirer Visayas; and Bobby Lagsa, Inquirer Mindanao
First posted 12:11 am | Sunday, February 3rd, 2013