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Manila Standard - Poll machines malfunction: Koko seeks probe

News & Interviews
14 May 2019

By Joel E. Zurbano | Manila Standard

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III on Tuesday called for a congressional inquiry into reported vote counting machine glitches that caused delays during Monday’s midterm polls.

Pimentel, chairman of the Senate committee on electoral reforms and people’s participation, questioned the Commission on Elections for lacking the foresight to anticipate the widespread malfunctioning of VCMs in different areas of the country.

“Glitches are enough to call for a congressional investigation. Why are we still having theses glitches? Can’t COMELEC anticipate them?” Pimentel told reporters in a text message.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said it was time for the country to stop tapping Smartmatic for the elections.

Smartmatic International has been providing the VCMs used in the all four automated elections—2010, 2013, 2016 and 2019.

COMELEC spokesperson James Jimenez said the number of VCMs that malfunctioned in Monday’s polls—estimated at about 600—was still within the “acceptable” range, given the use of 85,000 machines.

“What we see right now is 400 to 600 machines and instances it could go higher. I don’t know yet but so far that’s all that has been reported to me. That is a small figure out of 85,000 VCMs. So it seems to me it’s still within the range,” he said in a press briefing at the National Board of Canvassers headquarters at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City.

But the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections declared that violence, machine malfunctions and other irregularities could affect the integrity of the election results in specific areas.

NAMFREL volunteers reported incidents of violence in Datu Piang and Matanog in Maguindanao that made it impossible for people to vote.

In Sulu, violence was reported in Panglima Estino, Patikul, Talipao, and Panamao. Reports of altercations between voters were also received from Basilan and Lanao del Sur.

Volunteers in Davao Oriental and Davao Occidental also reported that voters just went home when they were unable to locate their precinct numbers, or could not find their names in the precincts where they have previously voted.

In Davao, Lanao del Sur, Cagayan de Oro, and Basilan, there were reports of failure of the Voter Registration Verification Machines in pilot areas.

NAMFREL also said the vote counting machine malfunctions in San Dionisio, Iloilo, and specific clustered precincts in various cities in Metro Manila resulted in manual voting.

In areas with defective VCMs, voters would no longer be around when their votes were finally cast, although they were given the option to wait, Namfrel said.

Malfunctions took several forms, the group said. VCMs would freeze, overheat or turn themselves on. Sometimes, there were paper jams or ballots would be rejected. All of these resulted in delays.

In Dinagat Islands and Surigao del Norte, volunteers reported that VCMs failed to produce voting receipts.

NAMFREL volunteers also reported lack of some election paraphernalia, as well as poor crowd management in many areas.

In Santolan Elementary School in Pasig City, political party watchers handled the transfer of filled-out ballots from the precincts to a room on another floor of the school building without the accompaniment of independent election observers.

Vote buying was also reported in Cagayan de Oro, Lanao del Norte, Davao Oriental, Davao Occidental, and Zamboanga del Norte, and in Metro Manila.

NAMFREL also said their volunteers reported that in many areas, Emergency Accessible Polling Places for persons with disability, senior citizens, and pregnant women were not provided.

NAMFREL deployed about 25,000 volunteers across the country to observe the voting, counting and consolidation processes on Monday.

The volunteers used observation forms that reflect NAMFREL’S more than 35 years of experience in monitoring Philippine and international elections.

Another election watchdog, Kontra Daya, expressed alarm over the failure of the Commission on Elections transparency server to provide current results to the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting and media for some seven hours.

The Computer Professionals’ Union also expressed disappointment over the technical glitches that marred the elections, and said COMELEC and its technology service provider Smartmatic Inc. be held accountable.

Timely results from the transparency servers are vital in affirming the accuracy, credibility and cleanliness of the election, so problems in the transmission of votes was a major issue, the group said.

“The COMELEC should have done more rigorous quality assurance and preparation as these are critical,” the group added.