Commission on Elections Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. told lawmakers Wednesday that they would do final testing on precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines seven days before the actual polls open, but cautioned them not to expect a perfect mock election.
Speaking at a hearing of the congressional oversight committee on automated elections, Brillantes said the Comelec had yet to determine if another mock election was needed, after glitches marred Saturday’s exercise.
He assured the lawmakers that the Comelec was prepared for the May elections, despite the problems that surfaced during the mock polls.
Brillantes also played down the likelihood that the thickness of the paper used might have caused the machines to reject some ballots.
He said the National Printing Office has printed 200,000 ballots and only a few were rejected by the PCOS machines.
In the same hearing, Comelec Executive Director Jose Tolentino criticized the media for exaggerating the PCOS glitches.
He pointed out that at the University of the Philippines Diliman
campus where one of the mock elections had been held, only one ballot was rejected by the optical machine due to an ambiguous mark.
Tolentino said the incorrect feeding of the ballots into the machine might have caused problems.
Brillantes agreed, saying the improper insertion of the ballot could fold or crumple the ballot and cause it to be rejected.
Insufficient shading on the ballot could also cause rejection, he said, adding that voters will have four tries to correct these defects.
The president of Smartmatic, Cesar Flores, said their machines would read any ballot as long as the shading did not obscure the barcode or markings on the side of the ballot.
Opposition lawmakers, however, said the Election Modernization Law would have to be amended to allow the Comelec to revert to a manual election system if problems with the PCOS machines persist.
Siquijor Rep. Orlando Fua said that Congress should be able to call a special session to work on the amendments.
“If the reported glitches that marred the operations of the machines during a recent mock election will recur in the May elections, then we should revert to the manual system. But Congress needs to conduct a special session to amend the automation law,” Fua said.
House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez added that the glitches in Saturday’s mock polls showed that the Comelec and Smartmatic have not yet solved the technical difficulties experienced during the 2010 elections.
“Though Chairman (Sixto) Brilliantes was quick to downplay the implications of Saturday’s exercise, we beg to strongly differ from his opinion. Among the glitches observed were: 1) ballots rejected despite not having any known defect, 2) PCOS transmission failures, 3) PCOS machines with missing clips and rollers that did not work, 4) jamming of paper ballots, 5) difficulty in starting them up and 6) problems keying in the pin code of the machine during the initialization process,” Suarez told reporters at a weekly news conference.
Suarez also said there were also reports that some Comelec officers and board of election inspectors inside the precinct at the UP Integrated School in Quezon City failed to observe the rules of the actual conduct of the elections as they were seen “tinkering” with the voting machine even after the initialization report, an act prohibited in the Comelec General Instructions in the 2010 elections.
The National Movement for Free Elections also observed that names on the voter’s list posted outside the polling precincts were different from those on Board of Election Inspector list, Suarez said.
“Now these deficiencies and inconsistencies concerned only some 20 voting centers used during the mock elections. Multiply that probability to the76,000 polling centers during the actual elections, and we can already get a rough estimate of the magnitude of what could happen,” Suarez said.
He also expressed concern over reports from the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines that tech-savvy individuals were offering to manipulate the poll results for P20 million to P70 million. With Maricel V. Cruz