Defective vote-counting machines, missing names, and faulty marking pens caused delays in the 2019 mid-term election Monday, the fourth to use an automated election system.
At a news briefing at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City, Commission on Elections spokesman James Jimenez admitted that VCM glitches were much higher than they were in the 2016 national elections, but said the poll body is still collating all the information coming from the field.
“There are many places of malfunctioning of VCMs and we are finding exactly the extent of the [problem],” Jimenez said.
Both the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) and Legal Network for Truthful Elections also reported a high incidence of VCM breakdown, which caused long lines and delays in the casting votes.
Among the usual problems encountered by voters were VCMs failing to start or conking out, ballots jamming VCMs, voting receipts not reflecting the candidates chosen by voters, ballots being delivered to the wrong precincts, names missing from the voters’ list, and faulty pens, the two poll watchdogs claimed.
Jimenez said the VCMs had passed final testing and sealing, making the problems Monday surprising.
He added that the Comelec was taken by surprise by the large number of reports of malfunctioning VCMs.
Among those who suffered delays because of defective VCMs were former Vice President Jejomar Binay and reelectionist Senator Grace Poe.
Binay, who is running to represent Makati City’s first district in the House of Representatives, was not able to cast his vote at polling Precinct 0550C in NB 304 in San Antonio National High School after the machine repeatedly rejected his ballot around past 7 a.m. Binay tried eight times to insert his ballot into the machine but it kept rejecting it.
Binay, clearly irked, left the precinct and went directly to the Philippine International Convention Center to file a complaint with the Comelec, which gave him a new ballot.
Jimenez estimated that at least 600 vote-counting machines were replaced after bogging down during the polling hours, four times higher than those that did in the 2016 presidential race.
“We are seeing a lot of issues crop up but whether or not that will.. [destroy] the credibility of the elections, I’m not there yet,” he said.
“We are talking about 85,000 machines in play so you have to get a sense of scale here,” Jimenez said.
The Comelec received calls from more than 3,000 polling precincts about problems concerning the VCMs, but these were immediately addressed, Jimenez said.
Election watchdog Kontra Daya, however, said the widespread malfunctions could have a major effect on the elections.
As of noon Monday, the group reported at least 39 cases of errors or failures resulting from malfunctioning VCMs nationwide.
“This number continues to rise as of now and does not include reports of VCM malfunctions reported on social media. Earlier this morning, no less than former vice president Jejomar Binay was temporarily unable to vote due to a malfunctioning VCM in his precinct,” Kontra Daya said in a statement.
The group stated that malfunctioning VCMs are a major cause of voter disenfranchisement due to delays and rejected ballots.
In Metro Manila alone, VCM errors or failures have been reported in precincts across the cities of Caloocan, Manila, San Juan, Malabon, Novaliches, Pasig, and Quezon City.
In Northern Luzon, VCM shutdowns were reported in the following areas Bambang East Elementary School in Nueva Vizcaya, Cagayan Valley, and Tumaini, Isabela.
The Comelec in Central Luzon said about 17 VCM and SD cards were found defective.
Elmo Duque, assistant director of Comelec in Central Central Luzon said that of the total 17 defective machines, seven were already replaced so people could continue to cast their votes in their respective precincts.
VCM problems were reported in Brgy. Libsong, West Lingayen, Pangasinan; San Miguel, Tarlac; Minuyan, San Jose del Monte, Bulacan; Talavera Elementary School, Nueva Ecija; and Ruperto Zubia Elementary School in Baler, Aurora.
Duque admitted that the replacement of defective machines caused delays in the voting process in some 8,654 clustered precincts and about 2,834 voting centers in the region. The replacement came from 452 standby VCMs allotted to the region, Duque said.
Defective VCM problems were also reported in the Ibalon Elementary School in Legazpi City.
In the Visayas, VCM errors were reported in the precincts of Lawaan, Eastern Samar; Mabolo Elementary School in Cebu City while in Mindanao, manual voting due to VCM malfunctions were reported in the precincts in Malabang, Lanao del Sur and Nuro, Upi, Maguindanao.
Kontra Daya said the May 13 midterm poll is the fourth round of nationally automated elections since 2010 but the problem of VCM malfunctions persists.
VCM machine malfunctions have been reported by both Kontra Daya and the Commission on Elections during the elections in 2010 (205 defective VCMs), 2013 (171 VCMs), and 2016 (150 VCMs).
Jimenez on Monday said the manual counting of votes was not an option if VCMs malfunction, saying the protocols to wait for the defective machine to be replaced.
“We should wait for the replacement. We will not go back to manual counting,” he said in a mix of Filipino and English in an interview with GMA News.
Senator Panfilo Lacson asked if the malfunctioning VCMs in different parts of the country were deliberate.
“Was that unintended inefficiency?” he asked in a Twitter post. “First time, maybe. Second time, well.. okay, let’s see. Third time, let’s bring them to court, or strangle them.”
Senator Nancy Binay, who is seeking re-election, said the glitches were not acceptable.
“We automated our elections to be more efficient ...but various reports are already pointing that there were cases of delayed processes. Waiting in line for four hours is too much,” she said.
She called on the Comelec en banc to investigate the VCM glitches that caused delays.
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