Machine breakdowns leave Filipinos in line to vote hours past closing

Kaycee Valmonte - Philstar.com
Machine breakdowns leave Filipinos in line to vote hours past closing
A person casts their vote during the presidential election in Antipolo, Rizal province on May 9, 2022.
Maria Tan / AFP

MANILA, Philippines — At 11 p.m. on Monday, four hours after polling precincts were scheduled to close, there were still voters waiting to cast their ballots.

In a press briefing held 8 p.m. Monday, Comelec acting spokesman John Rex Laudiangco said areas that encountered delays or "those which are highly populated cities and municipalities" are still accommodating voters.

"What we emphasize here, is that no matter how long it takes for as long as those voters came into the queue before 7 p.m., until 7p.m., we will ensure that they will be able to cast their votes," Laudiangco said.

He said the poll body is committed to making sure that voters will not get disenfranchised.

"Kahit anong oras abutin, papabotohin namin sila," Laudiangco said.

(It doesn’t matter if it ends late, we will allow them to vote.)

Groups, candidates, and poll watchdogs earlier asked for the extension of voting hours. However, the Comelec said at 8 p.m. that "there are no grounds to call and move or authorize the extension of voting hours."

Defective machines

For Filipinos who are eligible to vote in the Philippines, the registration process itself is a hurdle — the limited registration slots given to the public last year has led to some Filipinos camping out the registration centers just to make it to the cut-off. 

And on election day this year, Filipinos also spent hours in line up to vote. Reports of defective machines surfaced online as early as 7:30 a.m. on Monday morning. 

"We’ve been in line for almost two hours," Sandy Santos, a voter in Makati, told Philstar.com on Monday morning. She said poll watchers at her precinct reported the defective machine to the Commission on Elections as early as 7 a.m. 

At 8:51 a.m., she said the line to vote was already “insanely long.” The VCM at her precinct started working again at 11:20 a.m.

The Comelec in a message to reporters at 10:37 a.m. said 1,867 machines have already encountered “common issues,” which included paper jams, rejected ballots, scanner issues, and printing problems. 

READ: Not even halfway through voting day, nearly 1,900 vote counting machines marred with 'common issues' 

Voters can either leave their ballots with the electoral board and will await batch feeding or they can wait until the machine gets fixed. The Comelec noted that most voters wanted to see their ballots getting fed into the machine.

‘Minimal fraction’

The poll body reported that a total of 165 vote counting machines (VCMs) were either repaired or replaced on Monday’s polls in Metro Manila. Two of the machines were still under repair at the time of the press conference.

Meanwhile, 142 SD cards reportedly did not work and 133 of that total were replaced by the commission’s repair hub in Sta. Rosa in Laguna.

"So those things added to our issues here," Comelec - National Capital Region Director Temie Lambino said. "That’s only equivalent to 2-point-something percent of the total number of VCMs that we have here in the National Capital Region, which is 10,358, a very minimal fraction of the total number of VCMs that we use at the opening of the polls at 6 a.m."

Laudiangco said all the machines in the 106,174 clustered precincts across the country completed their final testing and sealing. 

"What about those which were subjected to repairs? A total of 0.502%, all of which were repaired and then delivered back to serve as contingency machines," Laudiangco said, adding that 0.203% of the total SD cards had issues but most were repaired.

The poll body said the VCMs that encountered issues were immediately prepared on-site by technicians. If that didn't work, supervisors from the national tech support center will help out. 

"At the last resort, if the VCM could not be repaired, that is only the time we pull it out and immediately replace it with a contingent VCM," Laudiangco said.

‘Not much of a problem in 2019’

The machines were reportedly "not much of a problem in 2019" because these were "relatively new" at the time. VCMs used this year are already nine years old.

Laudiangco said the commission prepared for the issues by incorporating contingency measures.

"We had anticipated problems, we had anticipated the issues concerned and that is why we were able to turn around the repair of the VCMs and that is also the reason why we brought closer to the regions the repair hubs," he said.

For the next elections, the poll body is hoping that it would have enough budget to update its machines.

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