Voting machines malfunction

Published by rudy Date posted on May 5, 2010

MANILA, Philippines – Fears of election failure intensified yesterday after some of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines to be used by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) failed test runs in some parts of the country, prompting a stop to the testing and a recall of the machines.

President Arroyo ordered Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT) chairman Ray Anthony Chua to meet with Comelec and Smartmatic officials to see what could be done to address the problem.

Mrs. Arroyo’s election lawyer Romulo Macalintal said postponement of the elections “is the only remedy to prevent a failure of election.”

Smartmatic president for Asia-Pacific Cesar Flores said when the testing started last Monday, some PCOS machines produced “contradictory” reading of the ballots for local elective posts.

“The first thing to do is look at all these reports and go to different possibilities of errors and finally it was narrowed down to configuration issue,” Flores said during a press conference at the Comelec.

The conference was also attended by Makati congressman and Joint Congressional Oversight Committee for Poll Automation co-chairman Teddy Boy Locsin, Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) chairperson Henrietta de Villa and Chua, among others.

The names of candidates for national posts were printed on the ballots with a single space in between rows, while the names of the local bets are in double spaces.

During the testing, the machines were able to count the votes cast for the candidates in the first row but it did not read the votes in the second row presumably because of the space between the two rows.

“It will read this candidate as blank space. It’s a human error. It had already been detected,” said Flores, who said Smartmatic and its Filipino partner Total Information Management Corp. (TIM) would assume responsibility since it is a “technical issue.”

After testing, the teachers serving as Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) are supposed to seal the PCOS machines, which will be opened only on election day.

Birth pains of going high-tech

To address the problem, Smartmatic-TIM will replace the four-gigabyte compact flash (CF) memory cards installed in all the PCOS machines assigned to each of the 76,000 polling precincts.

The cards contain the “polling precinct information” for a certain PCOS machine.

Because of this, the machine cannot be used in any other precinct without being configured first.

“The procedure is to replace the compact flash with corrected configuration. This will force us to stop (the testing and the) sealing for the next couple of days. We’ll resume (tomorrow). It is a logistical challenge. Technically, it’s an easy correction,” Flores said, brushing aside fears that the glitch would lead to failure of the polls.

He said the testing and the sealing, supposed to be done seven to three days before election day, were meant to “deny fraud and cheating by showing how the system is counting and also to detect failure in hardware or software.”

Flores gave assurance that Smartmatic-TIM could acquire all the needed memory cards in time for the resumption of the testing and sealing tomorrow.

The Comelec had leased 82,200 PCOS machines from the joint venture but some 6,000 of them are spare.

A recipe for chaos

The joint venture is presently assessing how many “jurisdictions” were affected by the glitches.

However, as a rule, if a PCOS machine fails the test in one precinct, all the units are automatically grounded.

So far, the affected areas include Manila, Makati City, Taguig City, Laguna, Palawan, Batangas and Mindoro.

At least 80 percent of the PCOS machines in Manila failed to work, according to Ali Atienza, son and campaign manager of mayoralty candidate Lito Atienza.

In District 3, the machines failed to read the votes for congressman and mayor, and votes for Atienza were credited in favor of incumbent Mayor Alfredo Lim.

Atienza also came out with zero votes even if there were at least eight or nines votes cast in his favor.

In Makati City, Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado complained that the machines tallied only the votes of his opponent for the mayoralty, Erwin Genuino.

Tensions ran high in Batangas between BEIs and Comelec officials on the one hand, and representatives of local candidates from 12 municipalities and two cities on the other, after the PCOS machines failed to work for several reasons.

Hearing the news in Manila, the Comelec office in Isabela City in Basilan immediately recalled 48 machines from the municipalities of Maluso and Tabuanlasa, causing alarm among local residents.

Several political parties immediately called on the poll body to check the flaws to ensure the sanctity and credibility of the elections.

While other candidates were open to the possibility that there were just technical issues involved, others believe that something more sinister is afoot.

Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino senatorial bet Joey de Venecia said the PCOS machines are a potential tool for an “Electronic Garci,” and urged the Comelec to take legal action against Smartmatic.

“I will not say that the May 10 elections will be rigged, but I will say that the automated system is likely to fail,” De Venecia said.

Public school teachers also expressed apprehension over the malfunctions of the machines and their late delivery.

“We are getting worried. There are only a few days left before election day and we hope these problems will be addressed because teachers will be in the frontline and will be the ones who will face the voters,” Teacher’s Dignity Coalition national chairman Benjamin Basas said.

Poll watchdog Kontra Daya also raised the alarm over the machine’s failure, saying the problem will compromise the integrity of the coming polls.

Comelec: No failure of elections

But Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento reiterated the poll body’s confidence that there would be no failure of election resulting from this incident.

“We are optimistic that there will be no failure of election. We have discussed this. In the event that it will happen, 30 percent will serve as backup for manual purposes,” he said, referring to the preparation being done by the poll body to conduct manual polls.

The agency had printed 30 percent of the forms required for manual election like election returns, statement of votes and certificates of canvassing.

However, Sarmiento admitted that the Comelec is not prepared to go manual beyond 30 percent as he claimed that the agency does not think this will happen.

PPCRV’s De Villa also admitted that her confidence in a successful automated polls had diminished.

“(But) one good thing about it is that it has been detected and it can be solved,” De Villa said.

For his part, Macalintal said the Comelec, on its own, based on serious cause like the apparent failure of PCOS machines to properly and correctly function, is authorized under Section 5 of the Omnibus Election Code to postpone the polls.

“Under the present situation, a 15-day postponement would be reasonable to give time for the Comelec to print additional forms for manual tally and canvass,” he said.

Deputy presidential spokesman Rogelio Peyuan said Mrs. Arroyo met with Chua yesterday and directed him to give all his support to the Comelec. The CICT is a member of an advisory committee overseeing the automation of the polls.

He said the President was very concerned with the developments in the run-up to the country’s first nationwide automated polls, which she earlier repeatedly stated as one of her legacies.

“Mrs. Arroyo is continuously monitoring and trying to find out what really happened, not necessarily to find out who is to be blamed because we are not just dealing with human beings. We are dealing with machines and with technology,” Peyuan said.

He, however, said the Palace would not budge from its position against a parallel manual counting of the votes.

AFP: No more turning back

Meanwhile, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) remains confident that the May 10 polls would be held smoothly even in the face of several glitches.

“We are working for them (Comelec), we are supposed to trust them and we believe they are more than capable of making this election credible,” said AFP Task Force HOPE (Honest, Orderly and Peaceful Elections) spokesman Col. Ricardo Nepomuceno.

National Capital Region Command (NCRCOM) chief Rear Admiral Feliciano Angue, who oversees the security of the PCOS machines in Metro Manila, ruled out a failure of election.

“A failure of election is unlikely. For example, in a worst-case scenario that the machines won’t work, we still have the ballots and these can be counted manually,” he said during the delivery of counting machines in Tandang Sora, Quezon City from a warehouse in Cabuyao, Laguna.

Angue said the other counting machines can still be delivered to polling precincts in Metro Manila before the elections.

“We need two days to complete it. If the delivery would resume on May 7, this would be completed on May 9,” Angue said in Filipino.

He said the military and the police are prepared to secure the movement of the machines once the technical glitches are resolved.

“As far as our tasking is concerned, we are ready to do what the Comelec is asking us to do. But there is a need to fix the machines and that is the problem of Smartmatic. Otherwise, the delivery would be continuous,” Angue said. –Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) With Marvin Sy, Jose Rodel Clapano, Rainier Allan Ronda, Roel Pareño, Ric Sapnu, Ding Cervantes, Arnell Ozaeta, Alexis Romero, Sandy Araneta

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