Also says delay will not affect schedule of shipping ballots to precincts
MANILA, Philippines - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) confirmed on Sunday that it has postponed anew the start of the printing of ballots for the May 10 polls but immediately clarified that it will not cause any delay in the other preparations for the country’s first nationwide automated polls.
Lawyer James Jimenez, Comelec spokesman, told ABS-CBN News Channel’s Dateline Philippines Sunday said that the start of printing of the ballots will now start on February 7, instead of Sunday January 31. The latest postponement was the second time since it was originally scheduled January 22.
He clarified however that the latest delay will not change other parts of the Comelec’s schedule of preparations for the May 10 polls.
“It wont, because the deadline we set for shipping is actually April 25, and if we had started printing today, then we'll finish printing by April 19. We actually have a lot of time left to spare if we started printing today, that would being the case and we don't want the ballots be shipping around, really be waiting for shipping, doing nothing. So as a matter of prudence, it would be better to slide the production date so that we finish printing right about the time we're ready to ship them out,” said Jimenez.
The Comelec spokesman added that the postponement by another 6 days of the start of ballot printing would not change the schedule of shipping the ballots to the precincts.
“What's very important thing is that the original shipping date has not moved, in other words the net result for the project really is nil. We were supposed to ship by the [April] 25th if hadn't moved the start date, we've moved the start date [of ballot printing] but still shipping by the 25th of April,” said Jimenez.
“More quality control”
Jimenez said that the postponement would actually give them “more time to control the quality of the ballot.”
“Meaning to say, we are able to make sure that everyone who should be in the ballot is in there. Its very important thing that this ballot is very accurate for every single one of the 1,631 jurisdictions that we are holding elections in May,” said Jimenez.
The Comelec had earlier decided to postpone the printing of ballots to wait for the resolution of disqualification cases against candidates at the national and local levels so that the ballots would, as much as possible, reflect the final and accurate list of candidates.
The Comelec has to print some 1,700 unique sets of ballots to reflect the national candidates and the local bets specific to towns and cities.
Commissioner Rene Sarmiento had previously explained that if they start printing the ballots as originally scheduled, there is the danger of some candidates being disqualified, and it will be a problem if their names are already printed on the ballots.
He said the Comelec has ruled out printing new sets of ballots in the event that the list of candidates are revised based on the results of the disqualification of cases.
Jimenez, on Sunday, said most of the disqualification cases still pending involve groups participating in the party-list system of elections.
“I think there are about 10 or 12 if I'm not mistaken are still pending, and almost for the most part the ballots faces have been finalized, we just want to make that sure we're not missing anyone out… These are mostly partly-list cases,” said Jimenez.
Jimenez also said that the 50% of the Precinct Counting Optical Scanner (PCOS) machines which would be used to count the votes and transmit the election results from the precincts have already arrived.
“We've about 50% of the PCOS, we have about 50,000 here, actually 48,700. We have more than 50% of that. The rest are either in shipping, in transit… We expect we have full delivery by February,” said Jimenez.
Each clustered precinct is set to have its own PCOS. The Comelec had ordered the production of 82,200 machines, based on its initial count that there would be about 82,000 clustered precincts. Comelec later announced that there are only about 75,000 clustered precincts based on its data.
Smartmatic is the Venezuelan company that is manufacturing in China the PCOS machines that will be used in the 2010 elections. Its local partner is Total Information Management (TIM).
Jimenez also said that that the testing of the PCOS machines are proceeding.
“The machines themselves are being tested and that's proceeding on a daily basis. We then assured by the group that handles the testing, the COMELEC group that handles the testing that we will be finish on time,” said Jimenez,
He also said that of the machines they have tested, none have required to be returned to Smartmatic.
When asked if there had been any lemons, Jimenez replied: “So far we haven't sent any back, so far our lemon count stands at zero.”
Jimenez also said that the source code, the programming codes of the applications that will be used by the PCOS machines will be made available for review.
“This Monday we will have the source code review, so that the software itself can be accredited, We’ll allow third parties to have a look-see at that,” said the Comelec spokesman.
Jimenez also assured that the preparations are underway for the training of the more than 200,000 teachers and other personnel who will compose the Board of election Inspectors (BEIs) in each of the precincts.
“The trainings for the operators are scheduled to start, if I'm not mistaken in March and that's being prepared even as we speak, we're preparing modules for that, and we're preparing our people as trainors precisely to go to the field and talk to the teachers and the people who will be running the PCOS on the election day.
“We already trained core officials from the Department of Education, 150 of them, and we're lining up training for more. So by March we'll be ready to really roll out this training program, and that will be very, very quick. The training itself is not very difficult, 2 or 3 days will be more than enough to assure that the operators have the skill to assure that the operators have the competence and skills required to operate the PCOS,” said the Comelec official.
BGAN satellite antennas
Jimenez also said that Smartmatic has increased the number of satellite antennas that would be used in areas where there are weak or no cellphone signals for the transmission of poll results from the precincts through the PCOS.
Based on Smartmatic’s site surveys of network availabilities in the various precincts nationwide, only 65% of the total number of polling centers have stable cellphone signal capacity.
To address the transmission issue, Smartmatic opted to acquire Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) satellite antennas.
“Yes, actually there are already 5,000 BGANs with the provider, with Smartmatic and they put in an order for lots more especially to deal with this finding of the site survey… The 5,000 units and the additional units that they are buying. I think they put in an order for about 10,000 more,” said Jimenez.
Jimenez said that Smartmatic purchase of additional BGAN satellite antennas would not be shouldered by the Comelec.
“So yes, it is a huge number but the supplier is contract bound to provide transmission for the entire country and they say they will do it and we believe them. We see the work they're doing on this problem. We see the investment that they're making. By the way none of these will add any cost to the COMELEC,” said Jimenez.
Jimenez said the BGAN antennas would be the contingency measure that would address the transmission issues in areas without or with weak carrier signals from cellphone companies.
“The most important to note here is that the contingency measure works, the contingency measure which is the BGAN, a satellite antenna technology. That works very well. We have no worries at all that comes election day transmission in the entire country will experience very minimal problem,” said Jimenez.
He said however that the Comelec still does not know which precincts would need to use the BGAN satellite antennas.
“I think we will come out with a report in the site survey some time this week, and that's how we will see exactly how many precincts will be affected,” said the Comelec spokesman.