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Election machines warehouse: A walk-through

MANILA, Philippines – How are voting machines for the 2016 elections being tested and stored? The Commission on Elections (Comelec) opened its warehouse in Santa Rosa, Laguna, to the media on Thursday, February 5.

The 5-hectare hub is where the 97,000 vote counting machines (VCMs) are being kept. The Comelec leases the compound from bus operator JAM Liner for the price of about P69 million a year. 

According to Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista, technology provider Smartmatic had delivered 90,000 VCMs to the country, with another 6,000 in transit from Taiwan. 

Bautista said the Santa Rosa compound houses 71,456 VCMs, and they are expecting a full delivery within the next two weeks. 

Five buildings comprise the warehouse: the main production facility, where the VCMs and the servers for the election management system (EMS) are being tested, an office building for employees, one main and auxiliary VCM storage facilities, and a multi-purpose building that houses the employees’ canteen and function rooms. 

The compound is wide, well-ventilated, and easily accessible for the more than 1,000 employees working there. 

Unlike the Comelec’s Cabuyao compound that houses the old precinct count optical scan machines, the Santa Rosa warehouse has a viewing deck, which the public may use to observe the activities inside the main production facility. 

“Because nga, we want, in the interest of transparency, we are open to groups coming over as long as they provide us notice,” Bautista said during a quick press briefing before he led a media tour of the warehouse on Thursday.

“In fact, students, we want to invite students [to go on a] field trip [here] to show them kumbaga what we are doing here so that they can also learn from kumbaga what goes on in an election preparation,” he added.

Testing the vote counting machines

During the walk-through, Smartmatic project manager Marlon Garcia explained the VCMs are first stored inside the storage facilities before being subjected to the hardware acceptance test.

“It’s basically you running the diagnostics of the machine and usng the ballots to make sure the machines are accurately and reliably scanning the ballots and the interpretation of the results are accurate,” he said.

The machines are also texted for accuracy by having each VCM scan 1,000 ballots with a total of 20,000 marks. To pass, a VCM needs to show a 99.995% accuracy reading.

VCMs that pass both tests are properly labelled then stored per clustered precinct, ready for delivery. 

If one fails, however, the machine would be labelled as under quarantine and would be repaired. In the meantime, Garcia said, a spare VCM from Smartmatic would take its place. Once the defective VCM is fixed, it will be deployed again.

The main production facility also contains the Memory Configuration Room, which only a limited number of Comelec and Smartmatic personnel may gain access to. It houses the servers for the EMS, which will manage the automated 2016 elections.

The EMS loads election-related data to prepare the ballot faces and create configuration files for the VCMs.

“So every single machine that is deployed in the field, every single machine that is used by Filipinos on election day, is tested here. Nothing leaves the warehouse unless it is fully tested and 100% certified as compliant,” said Garcia.

Security protocols

Security in the Santa Rosa warehouse is tight. 

Employees are required to wear at all times their IDs and their color-coded uniforms, which indicates which specific buildings they may only enter inside the warehouse.

Workers are also not allowed to bring personal articles inside the main production facility. They must leave their items in their respective lockers, which should be kept open at the end of the day.

Several items, including gadgets, firearms, liquor, metals, and hazardous objects are also not allowed inside the warehouse.

Security personnel from the Comelec Organic Security Force, augmented by the police, conduct security checks for anyone entering the buildings. 

“Sa security, ang maganda dito nasa loob eh, so we can post people. Malayo sa gate yung actual warehouse, So in an extreme situation, if technology provider asks us, we can get more PNP and if necessary armed forces. IF they need some tanks, if they want to propose some tanks, we can make arrangements as well. We don’t think security, at the moment, is a concern,” said Bautista.

(What's good here in terms of security is that the facility is near the inside area of the compound, so we can post people around it. The actual warehouse is far from the gate, so if the technology provider asks us in an extreme situation, we can got more PNP personnel and if necessary, the Armed Forces. If they need some tanks, if they want to propose some tanks, we can make arrangements as well. We don't think security, at the moment, is a concern.)

National Printing Office ready, too

Meanwhile, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr gave assurances on Thursday that the National Printing Office (NPO) is “fully prepared” to print the official ballots. The Comelec is set to give NPO the final job order on February 8.

“If we may recall, in the May 2013 national elections, the NPO was able to print and deliver 52 million official ballots in just 57 days, or 3 weeks earlier than the target completion date set by Comelec,” said Coloma in a statement. 

“Due to operational efficiency, NPO completed the task at a printing cost that was P230 million lower than the estimated budget. Moreover, savings of up to P35 million were attained in cost of paper and there was no need for Comelec to spend for the paper used in the printing of ballots for the barangay elections in October 2013,” he added.

Coloma said the cases filed against certain NPO officials “will not in any way hamper its operations including the printing of the official ballots.”

 “The officials involved have filed their respective motions for reconsideration to the Office of the Ombudsman order and are awaiting its resolution,” he said. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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