Philippines marks first e-polls with glitches

Reports of machines failing to read votes or rejecting ballots accompanied the country's inaugural electronic polls Monday, with some voters waiting up to four hours to cast their vote.
Written by Melvin G. Calimag, Contributor

MANILA--As Filipinos turned out in droves to participate in the first automated elections in the history of the Philippines, numerous glitches sent tempers flaring among voters as long queues formed at polling precincts.

Voters trooped to voting centers Monday morning only to find that the PCOS (precinct count optical scan) machines were unable to read their votes. According to local reports, project contractor Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM) reported a total of 328 defective PCOS machines on election day.

There were also reports of a huge number of ballots being rejected by the machines. The ballots and the machines are precinct-specific, which means they have to be delivered to their designated precinct in order to function well.

Compounding the problem was the "clustering" of the precincts, which shrunk the number of polling centers from 350,000 in previous years to just 76,000. Unlike before when 100 voters cast their ballot in a single precinct, 600 voters now had to share one PCOS machine in a clustered precinct.

The extraordinary number of voters and technical problems pushed the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to extend the voting hours from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. The country's main polling agency has not released the voter turnout numbers, but a local newspaper quoted the agency predicting the numbers could reach 85 percent of the 50.7 million registered voters.

Some voters said they waited for three to four hours under sweltering conditions before they were able to vote. Others were lucky, however, as they breezed through the voting process in just minutes.

The Comelec said one of the main causes of the long queues was the voter verification system, which remain antiquated despite the modern system of voting and counting.

Voter Jing Garcia said in his Facebook post that aside from the "bungling PCOS machines, it's more of a logistical problem for most voters". This exercise was a "pure oversight" by the Comelec, he added.

Another voter, Juliet Danga, noted in her status update that voters probably had the wrong expectation for this year's election.

"It's not going to be a fast one actually," she said. "It's only the counting process that is automated, but the rest is the same as the last."

The country's first automated elections--the most expensive in the world at 8 billion pesos (US$175.2 million)--stood on the brink of collapse just last week when the compact flash memory cards were found to have been wrongly configured. The project proponents then raced against time to have the reprogrammed CF cards sent to polling precincts all over the country before election day.

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