Despite glitches Comelec: Mock polls a success
AJ de la Torre (The Freeman) - February 3, 2013 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines - Technical glitches in the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines used in yesterday’s simultaneous, nationwide mock elections did not prevent the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from calling it a success.

Atty. Eddie Aba, Comelec Provincial Supervisor in Negros Oriental where the mock election for Central Visayas took place, said that they were able to transmit successfully to the national election board at around 1 pm although they encountered a few delays in some areas. Aba said in an interview with The FREEMAN that they were able to work around the problem and was able to complete the process.

Aba, who will be transferring to Cebu next week following the Comelec re-shuffling, said that they had around 50 voters per area to be able to demonstrate the flow during the election day on May 13. They used ballots with fictitious names and had the participants go through the whole process of the actual election.

He added that the purpose of the mock election was also to check the accuracy of the PCOS machines.

Last week, Comelec also had a simultaneous field transmission test in Cebu City and Lapu-Lapu City to test the transmission of data from the field to the local, provincial and national election board.

Yesterday was the first full mock election of Comelec for the upcoming May 2013 elections.

Apart from Negros Oriental, mock elections were held in the 5th district of Manila, Camarines Sur, Cagayan de Oro City, Misamis Oriental, Tawi Tawi and Maguindanao. Main precincts for the mock election were in UP Integrated School and Bagong Lipunan ng Crame at the 4th District of Quezon City.

Meanwhile, Aba will be taking office in Cebu starting Tuesday next week while Cebu Provincial Supervisor Atty. Marco Lionel Castillano will be transferring to Bohol. The reshuffling of supervisors and election officers is done before the election period and they shall return to their original posts by June 12.

Castillano, who was also in Negros during the mock election yesterday, said that they were just awaiting the resolution for them to transfer, which arrived last Thursday. He said that they would just have to finish turning over their obligations in their respective provinces before they leave.

Glitches

In Metro Manila, technical glitches in PCOS machines marred yesterday’s mock elections at two major voting centers but despite that, Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes said the mock polls went on “smoothly” at other voting centers.

“We have some initial minor problems but everything has settled down now. (Based on) our reports from the provinces, it’s still OK.  We have not received any adverse report so far,” he said in a press briefing at the P. Bernardo High School in Barangay Crame, Quezon City, which was one of the 11 voting centers chosen for the mock polls.

Brillantes said the PCOS machine at the UP-IS – the first voting center that he visited – rejected some ballots. But based on reports from the field, the problem was an “isolated” one. A technical glitch also delayed the initialization of the PCOS machine at P. Bernardo High School.

For the mock polls which began at 8 am, the Comelec tapped a total of 1,639 actual voters from 11 voting centers, including the 800 and 700 voters registered in the UP-IS and P. Bernardo High School, respectively. Only 50 voters were taken from each of the nine other voting centers across the country.

At the UP-IS, the PCOS machine repeatedly rejected the ballots of the first four voters prompting the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) to replace the machine. The BEI also had problem keying in the pin code thus delaying the machine’s initialization. Election personnel encountered the same problem at the P. Bernardo High School.

A PCOS machine has to be initialized to make sure that it is empty of unnecessary data.  The BEI should also check the keypads to make sure they are working.

Brillantes surmised the glitches occurred because the PCOS machines had been “inactive” for almost three years.

“Maybe they just have to be warmed up more. It’s the first time that we are using them again. But we already have plans if things like this and the contingency being to replace the PCOS machine with another,” he said.

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said he observed that the rejected ballots were crumpled on the edges and this might be the reason while the machine’s roller was not accepting them.

No cause for alarm

 Jimenez said the glitches gave the poll body an opportunity to perfect the system.

“The mock elections, apart from showing the people exactly what’s going to happen, is also an opportunity for us to shake down the system some more,” he said, adding that the objective of holding mock polls is precisely to determine what needs to be corrected.

As part of the mock polls, the ballots would be counted and then transmitted to the National Board of Canvassers and Central Server set up by the Comelec at its warehouse in Cabuyao, Laguna.

Jimenez said there are more than 81,000 PCOS machines for 76,000 polling centers, or enough spare units in case problems occur.

Eric Alvia, secretary general of the National Citizen’s Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), said “there were also problems with the machines’ thermal paper and roller while some clips were missing.” He also observed that names on the Voter’s List posted outside the polling precincts are different from those on BEI list.

“Hocus PCOS”

For former President Joseph Estrada, the technical glitches in yesterday’s mock elections showed that PCOS machines were vulnerable to manipulation.

“That’s what I’m saying, the PCOS machine was turned into Hocus PCOS,” he told The STAR over the phone. “Unlike in manual voting, you have nothing to present once you protest. One kind of cheating there is that, supposing there are 200 voters and only 70 percent or 140 voters turned out in the polling precincts and cast their votes. What will happen to the remaining 60 ballots for the 60 voters? The cheaters could easily fill them up in their favor,” Estrada said. He said he had called the Comelec’s attention to the problem during the 2010 presidential elections during which he ran but lost to then senator Benigno Aquino III. He is running for Manila mayor in the coming mid-term elections.

“The cheaters would only have to pay the Comelec personnel, a representative from a Parish Pastoral for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) and a watcher of the candidate. You cannot do anything about. The fight is over,” Estrada said.

“I am afraid of the unused ballot being used in the Hocus PCOS. That is what the people should be vigilant about. That is the danger there of having Hocus PCOS that is prone to vote shaving and padding,” Estrada said.

Meanwhile, an official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said he received reports that certain tech-savvy individuals are offering their services to local candidates for P20 million to P70 million to manipulate poll results in the candidates’ favor.  — with Philippine Star News Service/JPM (FREEMAN)

BARANGAY CRAME BERNARDO HIGH SCHOOL COMELEC ELECTION ELECTIONS MACHINE MOCK NEGROS ORIENTAL PCOS VOTERS
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