Thank God, it was a peaceful and honest election.
I went to my precinct at six o’clock in the morning on our country’s first automated elections. I knew the lines will be very long because the precincts will already be clustered and assigned one precinct counter optical scan machine (pcos). Each cluster has 1,000 voters.
Arriving there in the light rain, I saw my mom and my brother — only to find out we were already in the next batch of ten voters. I was ambitiously aiming for the FIRST one in our precinct to cast a vote so I was a bit angry with myself for coming late (my friend Ralphy was the first one to cast his vote in his precinct and he bragged about it).
The law requires a “holding room” for the voters to wait while batches of tens enter the precinct. The holding room turned out to be a holding area and in our case it was there in the quadrangle of a public school where we lined up in the early rain (at least I brought my umbrella which I shared with my brother and my mother).
I was in line for about an hour and by 7:30, I was finished. I had to rush and proceed to Surigao to work as counsel of a candidate. Later on, i saw how the lines got crazy and I was so thankful we went there one hour before the polling places opened. It was also helpful that we checked our precincts online before the elections because it already takes so much time to look at the list and find one’s name and the precinct.
If I had to say one word for our first ever automated polls, it’s “chaotic”, as chaotic as a Dolphy movie. Why?
- The lines were unbelievably long and slow moving. Others had to wait several hours to vote. In Surigao, one precinct was still voting around 2:00am of May 11 because the pcos in their precinct repeatedly failed to operate. While the law mentions of spare “pcos”s, there is only ONE spare PCOS in ONE municipality made up of 15 clustered precincts!
- Everybody was acting overly cautious [thus the delay]. The members of the Board of Election Inspectors were managing the voting on their toes without an organized process of how and what to do. The voters were practically shaking when they received the ballot which was very long and which does not fit the size of the armrest of the chair, that they end up losing their votes — shading heavily until the ink blotted at the back, accomplishing the ballots when their arms were still wet from the rain, practically throwing the ballots at the pcos that it ends up on the ground dirty.
- The technicians of Smartmatic who by their looks alone, clearly have no idea how to trouble shoot the pcos and the CCS (consolidation and canvassing system). I was in the Municipal Board of Canvassers and the IT personnel assigned there looked like a high school student with only skills to assemble and organize the laptop, the printer and the BGAN satellite antenna. He could not even do anything when our laptop in the canvassing did not have signal to receive the results from the precincts. From what I heard, technical people from Smartmatic of Manila just hired local individuals as IT personnel…and from what I observed, most of them were still college students.
- The CCS Operator who solely has access to the CCS or the laptop where the program of the consolidation and transmission and the results will be transmitted from the precincts to the city or municipality and from there to the provincial board of canvassers, to the central server, was nervous too. All of us had to instruct him which options to click on the screen (a fellow lawyer assigned in another municipality could no longer contain his impatience that he committed election offense and substituted the CCS Operator of that canvassing center to speed up things).
- There were no sufficient signals to transmit the results. The law boasts that at the municipal level, the results are ready after two hours from closing of the precincts but my gosh, there was failure to anticipate the fact that in rural areas, no sufficient internet connection is available. It was even hard to find good signals to send text messages and make cellular phone calls. One canvassing center had the IT climbing the coconut tree bringing with him the BGAN antenna to look for satellite signal! At our center, our IT went out of the building, out at the balcony, to find that blasted signal and he could not find any. Our CCS Operator repeatedly tried Globe and Smart connections but it was always “No Signal Available”. By God’s grace, at around 1am, Smart signal was already decent to receive the results from the precincts.
- Before the automation, it took forever to count the votes; not it takes forever to proclaim the winners because the precinct results take forever to be transmitted to the City/Municipal Board of Canvassers, then from there to the Provincial Board of Canvassers then to the National Board of Canvassers. What we did in our canvassing area, after waiting 1 million hours, we asked clearance from COMELEC so that the SD Cards can just be brought to us and manually uploaded in the system.
- The pcos rejected a number of ballots and it was a waste to see those votes go to waste. I hope in the future, there could be a remedy set for rejected ballots.
Yup, the scenarios made me think of a Dophy movie — everybody going frantic during the first trial of automated elections that looking back, I can now heartily laugh instead of feeling the frustration I felt then. Just imagine the IT climbing the coconut tree to get the signal, it’s hilarious!
Even then, it cannot be denied that the automated polls eradicated cheating in the counting of votes. Amidst all the suffering everybody had to go through, it was still worth it because the results were credible.
May God continue to bless us all and our newly elected leaders!