Over a third of vote-counting machines for 2022 polls repaired, refurbished: Comelec

Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 14 2021 04:00 PM

Nearly 40 percent of the 97,345 VCMs to be used in the May 2022 polls have been refurbished and/or repaired by Smartmatic-TIM technicians at the Comelec's Sta. Rosa, Laguna warehouse, the poll body reported on Sept. 14, 2021.
Nearly 40 percent of the 97,345 VCMs to be used in the May 2022 polls have been refurbished and/or repaired by Smartmatic-TIM technicians at the Comelec's Sta. Rosa, Laguna warehouse, the poll body reported on Sept. 14, 2021. Photo courtesy of the Comelec.

MANILA — Over 38,000 optical mark reader vote-counting machines (VCMs) have been refurbished and/or repaired at the Commission on Elections' (Comelec) warehouse in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, the poll body said Tuesday. 

This represents 39.44 percent of the 97,345 VCMs to be used in the May 9, 2022 national and local elections.

Refurbishment and repairs, which are undertaken by Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM) technicians, began in July and are expected to be completed by November.

The VCMs were bought from Smartmatic-TIM in 2016. 

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, personnel at the refurbishment and repair area has been significantly lowered from 500 to a little over 100.

Comelec Commissioner Marlon Casquejo said the process suffered delays also in July due to COVID-19 transmission in the facility. 

A stakeholder and media walk-through was conducted by the commission Tuesday.

Commissioners Casquejo and Aimee Ferolino, in charge of packing and shipping, and Comelec spokesman James Jimenez physically led the exercise, with chairman Sheriff Abas attending via zoom. 

A video presentation of the refurbishment and repair processes was shown.

Most of the area are off-limits to unauthorized personnel.

THE PROCESS

The machines are brought to the production line from the storage warehouse for refurbishment.

Each station is manned by 3 people: the operator, a representative of Smartmatic, and a representative of the Comelec Information Technology Department.

“Unang step po ay bubuksan yung makina para palitan yung CMOS battery… It’s a round battery na parang pang-relo, and then minamarkahan yung CMOS battery," Jimenez explained.

“Yung ating operator will start putting the machine through its phases. Sisimulan niya with the USB stick to check yung functionality ng makina natin... Isa sa pinakamalaking pagche-check natin is yung screen because yun yung main interface natin between the operator and the machine itself," Jimenez added.

The operator would then insert a screening sheet to make sure the machine's camera and scanner are working. 

"Magkakaroon tayo ng hardware acceptance testing. Ite-test natin yung harware ng makina natin. Lahat ng mga ports ay susubukan. And in a bit, makikita n'yo yung ikakabit siya sa saksakan to see kung gumagana yung power port niya," Jimenez said.

“So we’re running a diagnostic sheet and then this will generate a report which will in effect also test the thermal printer... Tinitignan yung ballot display na maige para siguradong malinaw," he added. 

“Kakargahan ng thermal paper para magamit yung printer… Ite-test siya sa direct connection to power."

The material printed by the VCM serves as the report that the machine has undergone refurbishment.

“One copy will be given to the Comelec representative and another copy to the provider... Once all the tests are completed, the machines undergo a wipedown and it’s prepared for packing into the new box," Jimenez said. 

Once all stains are removed, two security seals are placed on the VCM. It is then placed inside the new box, with its power cable. 

The VCM is then brought back to storage. 

Machines that have not passed refurbishment are labelled "for quarantine" and tagged for repairs.

Five percent of total machines refurbished and repaired in a day are subject to a "stress test."

“Repetition of feeding (ballot), repeated scanning, and then they’re going to run the thermal printer… Binabantayan natin yung accuracy ng scan,” Jimenez said. 

Once the software is ready, complete with the names of candidates and other configurations, it is inputted to the VCMs, and another layer of tests will be conducted, said Casquejo.

HEALTH PROTOCOLS, SECURITY

Security is tight at the facility.

Personnel from the Philippine National Police are augmenting organic Comelec security detail. K-9 units are also deployed in the area.

Health protocols are strictly enforced, such as temperature check and mandatory wearing of face shields and face masks. 

Stakeholders and media personnel who attended the walk through were required to submit a negative RT-PCR test result.

Political parties and election watchdogs sent their respective representatives.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros was among the observers. 

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