Overseas voting: 4 poll machines malfunction
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Shortly after voting began for 1.38 million Filipinos abroad, 4 vote-counting machines (VCMs) malfunctioned and had to be returned to the Philippines, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said on Monday, April 11.
Comelec Commissioner Arthur Lim said the 4 VCMs had earlier been placed in 4 different areas – one each in Hong Kong, and in Riyadh, Dubai, and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.
This is almost 3% of the 134 VCMs deployed overseas for the month-long overseas absentee voting, which started on Saturday, April 9.
Lim, the Comelec commissioner in charge of overseas absentee voting, said the Comelec is looking into why the VCMs malfunctioned.
He said the "initial impression" is that it's not a serious problem. In Dubai, for instance, the VCM ingests ballots if the machine is made to "lie down" ("padapain") horizontally.
"Kung baliktarin mo ang machine, papasok ang ballot. 'Yun ang sa Dubai. Pero hindi naman puwedeng nakabaliktad ang machine," Lim said. (If you put the machine upside down, the ballot is ingested. That's in Dubai. But of course we can't do that to the machine.)
Lim said the 4 malfunctioning machines "have been shipped back to the Philippines for diagnosis and the necessary troubleshooting."
He said these machines will be repaired in the Comelec’s VCM warehouse in Santa Rosa, Laguna.
'We just want to be ready'
To replace these VCMs, the Comelec on Monday was set to deploy "one replacement machine each, to replace the 4 machines that have been brought to Manila."
He said this was a "very minor problem," but the Comelec decided not to use the affected machine to ensure "normal operations."
Lim added that, on top of the replacement machines, the poll body is deploying contingency machines for the following places:
- Singapore – 2 machines
- Hong Kong – 2 machines
- Jeddah – 2 machines
- Riyadh – 2 machines
- Abu Dhabi – 2 machines
- Dubai – 2 machines
- Beirut – 1 machine
- Kuwait – 2 machines
- Bahrain – 1 machine
- Qatar – 1 machine
By deploying these contingency machines, Lim said, "it does not imply we do not trust our machines there." Most of the places that will receive contingency machines, for one, don't have malfunctioning VCMs.
"We are not expecting further malfunctioning of the machines already deployed abroad," the Comelec commissioner said. "But we just want to be ready, just in case of any malfunctioning in any of these places."
The machines had been manufactured by Smartmatic, a Venezuelan firm that election watchdogs have long wanted to blacklist from Philippine elections. Smartmatic critics say the company’s VCMs can easily be tinkered with to rig election results.
VCMs 'damaged during shipping'
Smartmatic, for its part, said the 4 VCMs "were damaged during shipping due to imporper handling."
"The VCMs were shipped not by Smartmatic but through a third-party service provider hired by Comelec," Smartmatic voters' education head Karen Jimeno said on Monday.
Jimeno added, "The VCMs undergo extreme stress tests during manufacturing, including subjecting them to extreme temperatures, but even electronics which are built strongly must still be handled with proper care."
"The defects in the 4 VCMs could have been prevented if they were handled properly during shipping. The replacement VCMs have already been dispatched for shipment today," she added.
The Comelec on Saturday began the month-long voting period for around 1.38 million overseas absentee voters this year.
This is the first time since 2004, the start of overseas voting, that the number of overseas voters has breached the one-million mark. (READ: What you need to know about overseas absentee voters)
"They have 30 days within which to vote, and we would like to encourage our overseas Filipinos to take advantage, to exercise their right of suffrage," Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said. – Rappler.com
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