Technical glitches, intense heat and long lines marked the historic first-ever nationwide automated elections in the Philippines as more than 50 million voters trooped Monday to over 76,000 voting centers across the country.
Local media also reported cases of vote buying and a failure of elections in several areas due to election-related violence and hostilities between local candidates.
As of press time, close to 400 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines being used to read, tally and transmit votes were reported to have broken down in many polling precincts, forcing the Bureau of Election Inspectors in those areas to resort to manual counting.
Widespread reports circulated of ballots getting jammed in the counting machines, ballots being rejected by machines due to improper shading, malfunctioning of memory cards, and power outages in some areas, which rendered the counting machines useless.
In Metro Manila, voters waited in line for hours just to vote.
'The heat is terrible. We’ve been waiting for three hours to vote, and the line hasn’t moved one bit,' one voter at a precinct at the state-owned University of the Philippines told IPS, as she fanned herself with campaign materials being handed out right outside the precinct.
Long queues snaked outside public classrooms that were converted into voting precincts, as volunteers struggled to keep people in line. Some became impatient and went home in disgust, but more chose to stay, saying they did not want to waste their vote and the chance to choose their next leaders.
The elections cover the president, vice president, and over 300 lawmakers in a two-chamber congress, as well as more than 17,500 local officials.
Voters blamed the long queues in voting precincts on the new automated system, saying it was supposed to increase efficiency but did not. Being new to the system, some voters took longer than expected filling in their ballots. In certain areas, equipment glitches caused the voting delays.
Instead of writing their preferred candidates’ names, voters were made to shade blank dots on a ballot with pre-printed names of the candidates using special ballot markers.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) said that the new system was designed to save time, effort and eliminate the problems of illegible handwriting, since voters would just have to shade ovals. Each ballot contains an average of 600 names of candidates for local and national positions. To ensure transparency, each voter was expected to shade and feed his or ballot into the PCOS machine.
'They should have just had one personnel feeding the ballots into the machines instead of having each voter feed the ballots,' Auxilian said, adding that some people were afraid of using the machines.
'Why change a system that was working perfectly?' asked Auxilian. 'The Comelec is not prepared to deal with this kind of system given the volume of voters,' he added.
In areas where the PCOS machines malfunctioned, voters had no choice but to place their ballots in ballot boxes with the assurance that these would be fed into the machines later on.
Last week, a massive recall of about 76,000 memory chips was undertaken after glitches were detected in the PCOS software.
Smartmatic-TIM, the consortium that supplied the machines, delivered reconfigured memory cards to the regional hubs where voting would take place. 'The machines here are working fine now. We haven’t had any problems,' said Rey Nicodemus, a poll watcher, at a basketball court converted into a precinct, adding that the new automated system was more efficient than the old manual system. 'In terms of the flow of the voters, it's much faster.' Early in the day, teachers who volunteered at polling stations asked for an extension of the voting, which was supposed to last only up to 7:00 p.m. to accommodate the number of voters and in view of the delays.
In previous elections, authorities had received hundreds of complaints about discrepancies in the list of voters, such as missing names, double registrants, and the illegal transfer of voters to other polling precincts.
‘Dagdag-bawas,’ — literally 'add-subtract,' or vote padding and shaving, wherein votes are deducted from one candidate and added to another candidate’s tally — was the most common form of wholesale election fraud in the country. In 2004, outgoing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was widely alleged to have rigged the national poll to ensure she would retain the presidency and win by a margin of at least one million votes.
Comelec has dispelled fears of election fraud under the new automated system, saying it eliminates human intervention.
Yet, actual experience seems to show otherwise, with reports emerging of candidates giving out of pre-shaded ballots, malfunctioning machines leading to manual counts, and problems in transmission of votes.
As of 7:16 p.m., the latest news bulletin of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), which releases partial and unofficial precinct results, Benigno Aquino III, which has consistently topped pre-election surveys, was leading the presidential race with 86,990 votes or 34.99 percent.
© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service
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