Comelec: Mock elections 'almost perfect'

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 06 2010 11:52 AM | Updated as of Feb 06 2010 10:04 PM

Ballots rejected in some precincts

MANILA, Philippines (1st UPDATE) - Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Jose Melo said the 2-hour mock elections held on Saturday morning were "almost perfect" with only a few hitches experienced in several polling precincts in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

"I would say almost perfect, expectedly," Melo declared when asked by reporters at the Comelec's main office in Manila to assess the general outcome of the elections.

The Comelec chairman also joked that "there seems to be no jamming in Taguig," allaying fears of the supposed smuggling of 5,000 signal jammers to disrupt the transmission of votes during the May 10 national elections.

In a report by ABS-CBN News' Ryan Chua, he said a voter was able to vote twice without being noticed by the board of election inspectors (BEI) and several observers at the Maharlika Elementary School in Taguig City.

The voter, who declined to be named, said a BEI forgot to put indelible ink on his finger. The voter said he decided to test the vigilance of the BEIs and the Comelec's observers and was able to successfully vote again.

Aside from the "flying voter", the PCOS machine in the same school failed to read the shaded names on 3 ballots.

Chua reported that the BEIs were forced to use a back-up PCOS machine to read the ballots.

The results of the mock elections held at the Maharlika Elementary School in Taguig were also the last ones to reach the central server at the main Comelec office.

The Comelec said that all votes from a total of 9 precincts from selected areas in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao were successfully transmitted to the central server by 11:11 a.m.. The results were transmitted to the server intended for the national board of canvassers.

In a report filed by ABS-CBN's Willard Cheng, he said the opening of the polling precinct at the New Era Elementary School in Tandang Sora district, including the preparation and start-up of the PCOS machines, went smoothly starting at around 8 a.m.

However, Cheng reported that during the actual voting, the PCOS machine rejected ballots fed by at least 3 voters. The report said one voter was told that his ballot was crumpled while the other one was told that his ballot was probably not properly shaded.

More hitches

In Davao City, a ballot jammed the PCOS machine at the Generoso Elementary School around 8:24 a.m.. It took a Smarmatic-TIM technician 5 minutes to take out the jammed ballot and restart the machine.

Another ballot was also rejected by the same voting machine and declared void because the voter placed a check mark instead of shading his ballot.

PCOS machines at the Pines City National High School in Baguio City and the Bulacao Community School in Cebu City rejected one ballot each.

Election officers in Baguio City said the rejected ballot was not properly shaded by the voter while the rejected ballot in Cebu City had a smeared bar code.

The BEIs at the Pines City National High School said the rejected ballot would still be included in the mock election results. They said the ballot will be physically delivered to the municipal level and then manually counted.

In another polling center at the Mabini Elementary School, also in Cebu City, the BEIs failed to transmit the votes through mobile network signals. They were forced to use the BGAN (broadband global area network) satellite antenna and successfully fed the results to the servers in 16 minutes.

Despite the hitches, all PCOS machines in the 3 cities were able to transmit votes to the municipal level servers and successfully received by the central server.

The mock elections started at 8 a.m. and ended at 10 a.m.

In an interview on ANC, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez downplayed the hitches encountered . He said that generally, they were able to prove that the whole automated system works.

Queuing of transmission on May 10

The Comelec, meanwhile, assured that the main servers at its office in Manila will be able to handle the transmission of votes from all 76,000 clustered precincts during actual elections.

It said there will be a queuing of data during the actual elections. It also said that the elections results cannot be tampered while they are lined up for transmission into the main servers.

The Comelec explained that each data that will be sent by all 76,000 PCOS machines are as light as sending a simple word document. It added that all data will be sent in 128-bit encryption, which is the globally-accepted encryption for sending secret information. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_Encryption_Standard)

More than 50 million voters will troop to 76,000 polling precincts on May 10, while only around 500 voters participated in the mock elections.

The Comelec limited the number of voters to 50 for each polling precinct in the mock elections.

The poll body earlier said that all 82,200 PCOS machines will be delivered by Smartmatic-TIM by February 21. PCOS machines will be deployed in all precincts, with around 6,000 as back up.

‘Good day’

Before the mock polls began Saturday, Jimenez expressed optimism about how it would turn out."It's election day-like... We think it's gonna be a good day. PCOS (Precinct Count Optical Scan) machines are opening fairly well," Jimenez said in an interview on ANC.

Aside from actual registered voters, the mock elections also involved actual teachers as BEIs.

Mock elections were also held in Gen. Ricardo Papa Memorial High School in Barangay Tuktukan, Tuktukan, Taguig City; the Pines City National High School on Palma St, Barangay City Camp Central and Community Youth Center in City Camp Proper, both in Baguio City; Bulacao Community School in Villa Manga, Bulacao and Mabini Elementary School in Sitio Prope, Mabini, both in Cebu City; and Alejandra Navarro Elementary School in Lasang, Davao City.

Reports from ABS-CBN News reporters assigned in polling centers said the actual voting started shortly after 8 a.m..

Initial reports said the start-up of the PCOS machines and the initialization, where the machines are supposed to have a print-out showing there were still no votes cast, were successful.

The Comelec earlier said that the mock elections will help the poll body determine the accuracy and reliability of the whole automated election system. They would also be able to determine actual problem spots that may arise in the actual elections on May 10.

One of the major concerns of the Comelec during the mock elections was the possibility of the PCOS machines rejecting a "first-time scanned" ballot and the actual transmission of votes.

Another concern was the transmission of votes by the PCOS machines to servers at the municipal level and the national level, which would be in the Comelec's central office in Intramuros, Manila.

Voters participating in the mock elections were provided with 30-inch-long ballots. The voters selected from the list of mock candidates for president, vice-president, senators, party-list groups, congressmen, governors, vice-governors, mayors and vice-mayors, which were horizontally enumerated on the ballot.

Jimenez said the actual ballot that will be used on May 10 will be 5 inches shorter. He said the sample ballot used during the mock elections is almost identical with the actual ballot that will be used on election day.

Jimenez said they expect each voter to finish shading the ballots in less then 10 minutes. He advised voters in the May 10 elections to prepare their list of preferred candidates that they can use as guide in voting.

"[Having a] Codigo (prepared list) is better," he said, adding that it would hasten the actual shading of the ballots or the selection of candidates.

Faster and better

Myrna Romerate, principal of the New Era Elementary School in Quezon City, told ANC in an interview that her initial observation was that the automated election was actually faster and easier for teachers and voters compared to the manual elections.

"We are all excited here. Madali para sa mga voters. Mabilis, nabawasan ang pagta-tally, it takes time talaga for teachers (It's easier for the voters. Faster because teachers would not be tallying [votes], it really takes time for the teachers)," Romerate said, adding that they actually tested the machines' transmission and the system on Friday night.

She added that the feeling at the elementary school was it was like election day because the usual people present during actual elections, including observers and "excited voters," were all there.

Casting of votes ended at around 10 a.m., and Comelec expected all results of the mock elections to be in the Comelec's central server by noon.

Signal jammers

Ray Anthony Roxas-Chua III, secretary of the Commission on Information and Communications Technology, said they are now focusing on how to avoid the "loss of signal" that  hampers the transmission of votes.

Chua said they are looking very seriously at the effects of signal jammers. He said his agency, together with the Comelec, has asked concerned law enforcement agencies to “get them (signal jammers) out of circulation.”

He said a signal jammer will not be able to hamper the transmission of votes since the system that will be put in place will be wireless.

Jimenez, meanwhile, said that Smartmatic-TIM will procure additional BGAN (broadband global area network) satellite antennas. He said they want to allot at least one BGAN satellite antenna in each of the more than 70,000 polling centers that would be set up around the country on election day.

Jimenez said if the transmission of votes through mobile network signals from 3 providers -- Globe, Smart and Sun Cellular – fails, they will be using the BGAN satellite antennas to transmit the votes.

If these fail, the Comelec spokesman said BEIs are instructed to copy the results of the elections in their precincts to a flash disc and bring it to the nearest polling center for transmission.

The Comelec, meanwhile, assured that they have back-up plans for polling precincts in remote areas.

He added that all BEIs will be assisted by IT experts, and each precinct will have “hotlines” in case both the BEI and the IT expert fail to fix a malfunctioning PCOS machine.