Long lines, technical glitches mark elections

By: Jose Santino S. Bunachita, Juli Ann M. Sibi, Julit C. Jainar, Michelle Joy L. Padayhag, Victor Anthony V. Silva May 09,2016 - 11:55 PM

LONG queues in very humid weather, a power outage, rampant reports of vote buying and some technical glitches from at least twenty defective vote-counting machines (VCMs) were among the problems encountered yesterday as more than two million voters showed up in 17,202 polling precincts across the province to cast their votes.

Voting took about five minutes for each voter; sometimes even less for those who brought a list of their preferred candidates. But waiting in line took at least an hour in many places especially at midday.

Hundreds of volunteers from the Cebu Citizens Involvement and Maturation for People Empowerment and Liberation (C-Cimpel) were spread out across all cities and towns to assist the voters.

Senior citizens, persons with disabilities (PWDs) and heavily pregnant women were led by volunteers to priority lanes while others were told to wait for their turn in holding areas, usually a room beside the precinct.

Even with special lanes for the elderly, 80-year-old Celerina Capuyan still had to wait for 15 minutes before she could shade her ballot in one of the precincts at the Tuburan Central School, owing to the heavy turnout of voters.

“It took me only five minutes to fill up my ballot. My only concern was that the text was too fine, my daughter had to help me,” she told Cebu Daily News as she proudly held up her right index finger stained with indelible ink as proof that she successfully voted.

Others at the precinct had to wait in line for almost three hours before finally getting their ballots.

Voters perked up at the sight of a passing ice cold water or a woven fan vendor as they dealt with the heat which, according to the weather bureau Pagasa, reached a high of 33.8 degrees Celsius by noontime with a “real feel” of 40 degrees Celsius.

54-year old vendor Rodolfo Sevillano did rounds at the Tuburan Central School quadrangle selling fans before proceeding to vote. With 200 pieces of woven fans slumped over his shoulders, he called out to voters waiting outside their precincts and earned P2,300 in just three hours.

In Mangga Elementary School, around three kilometers from the Tuburan town proper, the VCM of one of the polling precincts bogged down and would not accept ballots when the voting center opened at 7 a.m.

While technicians tried to figure out what was wrong with the machine, voting was stalled until it was announced that the technical problem was “beyond their control” and no contingency VCM unit was available from the National Technical Support Center (NTSC).

To avoid further delays, Tuburan Municipal Election Officer Carla Espina told the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) at the precinct to proceed with the voting. The shaded ballots were kept in a large envelope and would be loaded into the VCM unit of an adjacent precinct using the defective VCM’s memory card.

At Colawin Elementary School in the hinterlands of Argao town, southern Cebu, a 77-year old woman thought that the spaces before the candidates’ names were to be checked instead of shaded. Maxima Ramos, who came in without help from anyone, found out that she had done wrong when the VCM declared her vote as “invalid”.

In the cities of Carcar and Talisay, three VCMs were reported to have bogged down due to overheating. A desk fan was placed at the back of the machines to cool down the units while waiting for contingency VCMs to arrive. At least six VCMs reportedly also bogged down in the southwestern municipality of Moalboal.

In Bantayan Island, which consists of the towns of Santa Fe, Madridejos and Bantayan, a six-minute blackout interrupted voting at around 8:20 a.m. after a control panel of the Bantayan Island Power Corporation (Bipcor) plant encountered a problem.

“It was immediately fixed and the power was immediately restored. So far that’s the only problem encountered in the island. Other than that, it’s fine,” said Engr. Lee Rivera, general manager of Bantayan Electric Cooperative (Banelco).

In Mandaue City, nine of the 272 VCMs did not read the ballots fed to them which delayed voting by one to two hours in precincts of Barangays Cambaro, Cabangcalan, Basak, Looc, Subangdaku, Tabok, Tipolo and Banilad.

“So far, so good, except in some problematic VCMs which we have replaced with four contingency VCMs,” said Mandaue City Election Officer Ferdinand Gujilde.

However, poll watchers were invited to the Mandaue City Police Office (MCPO) after a complainant accused them of vote-buying, a commonly reported election violation throughout the country.

CEBU CITY

In Cebu City, Monday’s elections were mired with troubles over VCMs that broke down consistently creating hour-long delays in the voting process that led to cramped voting centers, and voters who claim their names were not in the voters’ lists.

Over 24 out of the 837 VCMs would no longer operate and had to be replaced in both districts of Cebu City.

Comelec pointed to the “lack of endurance tests” on the VCMs for the technical break down.

“Imagine, during the test run we only have eight, ten ballots to run on the machines. During elections we have some 600 to 800 ballots to feed. We didn’t test how well the machines would do for extended periods of time,” said Atty. Edwin Cadungog, Cebu City north district election officer.

“You know, relative to the number of VCMs that did not break down, 24 is just small. We at Comelec still call this a successful elections,” Cadungog added.

Antonio Tormis Jr., a 70-yr-old Filipino voter who is also a voter in the United States, shared that there is so much work that Philippines needs to do to perfect the automated system.

“We never experienced this much confusion in the United States elections. The electoral process is very clear. Machines don’t break down this often, and rules on voting are always clear,” he said.

Tormis hopes that after this year’s elections, the Philippine government will invest more in perfecting the automated system to remove any doubts on the transparency of the elections.

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