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Manila Standard - Practice makes imperfect

News & Interviews
14 May 2019

By Manila Standard

Practice makes perfect—except, it seems, for the Commission on Elections and its technology partner Smartmatic. In fact, based on Monday’s automated elections—the country’s fourth since 2010—things are getting worse, not better.

At a news briefing at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez admitted that the number of vote counting machine glitches were much higher than they were in the 2016 national elections.

Jimenez estimated that at least 600 VCMs were replaced after bogging down during the polling hours, four times higher than those that did in the 2016 presidential race.

Two watchdog groups, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting and the Legal Network for Truthful Elections also reported widespread VCM breakdowns.

Before this year’s dismal showing, the number of defective VCMs had actually been dropping, from 205 during the country’s first automated election in 2010, to 171 in 2013 and 150 in 2016.

Jimenez said the number of affected units was not large enough to have a significant impact on the outcome of the polls.

“That is a small figure, out of 85,000 VCMs. So it seems to me it’s still within the [acceptable] range,” he said.

But the defective VCMs were only part of the problem.

News organizations, watchdog groups, and political parties encountered a problems Monday receiving unofficial election results from the Comelec’s transparency server.

These groups only received one file—with a time stamp of 6:15 p.m. of May 13—consisting of votes from only 359 precincts, representing less than 1 percent of the total votes.

For the next seven hours, no succeeding files were sent or received from the transparency server, even though they were supposed to be sent out in 10- to 15-minute intervals.

During this time, Comelec and Smartmatic officials scrambled to fix the problem, but reported only that the computer service that generates the files for media and watchdog groups encountered “technical problems.” The transparency server, they added, continued to receive results from VCMs across the country.

While the vote counts from the transparency server are only partial, unofficial results, any delay in the election process diminishes the credibility of the poll outcomes.

As part of its oversight function, the newly elected Congress should investigate the technical problems besetting the automated election system. That the lawmakers were elected despite the glitches and delays should not matter as they are now duty-bound to determine if the people’s money is being squandered on automated systems that don’t work as they should.