First poll machine field test gets mixed results

By REYNALDO SANTOS JR., Newsbreak

Posted at Jan 27 2010 07:16 PM | Updated as of Jan 28 2010 06:09 PM

Next dry run on January 29 open to the public

MANILA, Philippines--The first field test of the automated election process got mixed results Wednesday, as most target areas transmitted mock vote results to the central server by lunch time, while data from Mindanao had not been received by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) as of early evening.

To assess the efficiency of the data transmission system, the Comelec conducted field tests in 10 precincts across the country, simulating election day activities--from the reading of pre-shaded ballots by the counting machines, the transmission of the data, and the canvassing of votes.

For the automated elections--the first to be held nationwide in May--votes that will be gathered by the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines will be sent electronically to multiple servers provided by the poll body, at the local and national levels.

The 10 precincts were a mix of urban and rural areas in Metro Manila and in the provinces. Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said they wanted to see how the process would go "considering the peculiar characteristic of each of the locations."

The field tests tried the 2 methods for vote count transmission: through GSM, which used signals provided by telecommunication companies; and through the use of broadband global area network (BGAN), which used satellites. The Comelec said both methods worked well, based on initial reports that it gathered.

Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal told reporters that the election machines were able to transmit data to servers dedicated in the municipal and provincial level, and later to the central server of Comelec.

A minor glitch arose, however, when the election machine set in Aguho Elementary School in Pateros failed to transmit data. Larrazabal said that the problem was immediately fixed by changing the SIM card used by the broadband in sending the data.

"The concern is not about the system but rather the use of the network," Larrazabal assured.

Field tests were held from 7am to 12pm, with all election data reaching the Comelec central server by noon. The poll body, however, has yet to received data from Lake Sebu in South Cotabato, which used the BGAN.

The poll body said it wouldn't consider this a failure of transmission until they receive the official report from South Cotabato on what transpired.

Field tests were also conducted in Pateros, Taguig City, Bakun in Benguet, and Naga City in Cebu. Each area was assigned with 2 PCOS machines for testing.

Jimenez said that the poll body has a contingency plan in case machines are not able to transmit. This involves transporting the memory card of the election machine to a nearby machine that can transmit the data.

The poll body has set another round of field tests for Friday, January 29. But unlike the test conducted today, where only representatives of the technical working group, Smartmatic, and Comelec participated, the test on Friday will be open to the public.

This is in response to the request of the joint congressional oversite committee and some civic organizations to have the field test open to the public and covered by media.

The second test will be conducted in Pateros/Taguig, which is accessible to most interested observers from the media and civic organizations. (Newsbreak)