Mock automated polls held


Posted at Feb 06 2010 10:26 AM | Updated as of Feb 06 2010 08:52 PM

MANILA,Philippines - Registered voters flocked to 9 polling centers on Saturday morning to participate in the Commission on Elections' (Comelec) testing of the  automated election system.

"It's election day-like... We think it's gonna be a good day. PCOS (Precinct Count Optical Scan) machines are opening fairly well," Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said in an interview with ANC minutes before the poll body's mock elections started around 8 a.m..

The mock elections involve actual teachers acting as board of election inspectors and actual registered voters pre-selected by the Comelec.

The mock elections were held in 9 polling centers strategically chosen by the Comelec. The polling centers were set up in New Era Elementary School in Tandang Sora Ave., New Era, Quezon City; Maharlika Elementary School in Maharlika Village, Taguig City; 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; Alejandra Navarro Elementary School in Lasang and Generoso Elementary School in Bago Aplaya, both in Davao City.

The Comelec pre-selected 50 registered voters for each polling precinct.

Reports coming from ABS-CBN News reporters assigned in each 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.

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

Jimenez told ANC the voters during the mock elections will be provided with 30-inch long ballots. The voters will be selecting from the list of candidates for president, vice-president, senators, party-list groups, congressmen, governors, vice-governors, mayors and vice-mayors, which are horizontally enumerated on the ballot.

He said the actual ballot that would be used by the Comelec during the real elections 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 during election day.

Jimenez said they expect each voter to finish shading the ballots in less then 10 minutes. He advised voters for 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 elections are 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 have actually tested the machines' transmission and the system on Friday night.

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

Signal jammers

Another possible problem is 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.

Jimenez said the casting of votes will end at 10 a.m., and they expect all results of the mock elections to be fed into the Comelec's central server by noon.

Ray Anthony Roxas-Chua III, secretary of the Commission on Information and Communications Technology, said they are now more focused on how they will avoid the "loss of signal" that would hamper 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 out of circulation.”

He said that nothing can actually stop a signal jammer from hampering the transmission of votes, since the system that they will using would be wireless.

Jimenez, meanwhile, said that Smartmatic-TIM will procure additional BGAN (broadband global area network) satellite antennas. He said they would want to allot at least one BGAN satellite antennas to 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 – fail, they will be using the BGAN satellite antennas to transmit the votes.

If all else 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 all 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.