PCOS Glitches Uncovered

MANILA, Philippines --- Are the technical glitches that marred the mock elections yesterday ominous signs of things to come in the May, 2013, midterm elections?

As far as Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Sixto Brillantes is concerned, it's a welcome development.

"We are able to check the deficiencies this early. It's a very good sign," he said.

Some of the glitches happened at the University of the Philippines Integrated School (UP-IS) in Quezon City after the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machine used rejected the ballots of the voters, prompting the Board of Election Inspector (BEI) chairman to replace the machine.

Voting at UP-IS was also delayed after the BEI had problems keying in the pin code of the machine during the initialization process.

Initialization is the process wherein the BEI will make sure that there are no votes or entries stored in the PCOS machine's memory as proven by an initialization report to be generated by the machine afterwards.

In some precincts, BEI members had to use pencils or ballpens as spools for the PCOS machines' thermal papers.

When asked for the reason for the glitches, Brillantes said it was probably due to the PCOS being inactive for three years.

"Maybe they need to be warmed up more. It's the first time that we are using them again," he said in a press briefing at the P. Bernardo High School in Quezon City, where the mock elections was also held.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez, for his part, said it's also possible that the ballots could have been rejected by the PCOS machines due to the improper handling of the ballots by the voter.

"We are looking at the possibility if the ballot also has an effect. There is this one ballot being rejected repeatedly with the edges slightly crumpled so that could be a reason it cannot get through the roller," he said.

"At this point these are all speculations on my part based on what I was able to see. We will look into the machine and assess the problem," added Jimenez.

In the mock elections, each voter has four chances of trying to feed the accomplished ballots in four different orientations, namely face-up head first, face-up end first, down face head first, and down face end first before their ballots can be considered rejected.

After the machine was replaced, Jimenez noted that the voting went smoothly.

"We have over 76,000 polling precincts but we have over 81,000 machines so the excess machines will really be used as replacement units for contingency purposes," he said.

The National Citizen's Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) also observed other problems.

"There were also problems with the machines' thermal paper and roller while some clips were missing," Eric Alvia, secretary general of Namfrel, said.

"I spoke with the principal and she said that when the kit was sent to them they (still) had to assemble it. There was an absence of technical personnel from the vendor. They were not here ..... The technician arrived at 7:15 a.m.," he added.

Alvia said even the names on the Voter's List posted outside the polling precincts are different from the list of the BEI.

"Anyway, we still have around two weeks to go before Comelec releases the certified voters' lists. We're waiting for that and then Namfrel can help authenticate and validate if the list that the Comelec national office produces is one and the same as what local Comelec has. It's an area where fraud could occur," he said.

The voting center at UP-IS is just one of the 20 identified voting centers in 10 areas around the country that simultaneously held the mock elections Saturday.

Mock polls were also held in Bagong Lipunan ng Crame (P. Bernardo High School) in Quezon City; 5th District of Manila (Epifanio delos Santos Elementary School and Herminigildo Atienza Elementary School); Iriga City (Iriga Central School and Sta. Teresita Elementary School), and the Municipality of Bato (Bato North Elementary School and Atipolo Elementary School), in Camarines Sur; Dumaguete City (City Central Elementary School and Camanjac Elementary School) and the Municipality of Sta. Catalina (Santa Catalina North Central School and Kabulacan Elementary School), in Negros Oriental; Cagayan de Oro City (City Central School and Balulang Elementary School) and the Municipality of Initao (Initao Central School and Oguis Elementary School), in Misamis Oriental; and the Municipalities of Bongao (Lamion Walking Blackboard Elementary School and Simandagit Elementary School) in Tawi Tawi; and Buluan (Pilot Elementary School and Talitay Elementary School) in Maguindanao.

The mock polls mimicked the entire voting process on Election Day beginning with the PCOS initialization up until the transmission of votes both directly to the Central Server in Cabuyao, Laguna, and through the step-by-step process from the precinct, to the municipal canvassing centers, to the provincial canvassing centers and to the central/national server.

Before noon, other areas where the mock polls were held already had their successful transmission to the central server.

"Comelec servers in Cabuyao, Laguna, have received PCOS results transmissions from Maguindanao, Tawi-Tawi, Camarines Sur, Negros Oriental, and Misamis Oriental," Brillantes said.

Because of this, the poll chief said he believes that the overall conduct of the mock polls has been successful except for a few glitches at the start.

"Our reports from the provinces are also okay. We have not received any adverse report from the provinces so far... We have some initial minor problems here but everything has settled down now," said Brillantes.

"Except for a glitch in one precinct, mock elections are going on smoothly nationwide. No major problem reported so far," he added.

The mock polls in Quezon City shall be conducted from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. as it will involve an estimated 1,639 potential voters while all the other voting centers only ran from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. involving a combined 900 prospective voters.

In the mock polls, voters were able to vote for names of Hollywood celebrities for senator while local music bands were used as names in the party-list elections.

"On a lighter note, Tom Cruise, Mariah Carey, and Neil Armstrong are among the senatorial candidates in the mock elections," Brillantes tweeted in his Twitter account (@ChairBrillantes).

In the mock ballot, Hollywood actor Cruise is running under the Lakas-CMD, Carey under Partido Magdiwang, and Armstrong under Bayan-Muna.

Other celebrities included in the mock ballot are Paul Anka, Celino Dion, Harrison Ford, Richard Gere, Sandra Bullock, Nicholas Cage, Hugh Grant, Johnny Depp, Drew Barrymore, Jodie Foster, Michael Buble, Farrah Fawcett among others.

While for party-list, the names of local bands were used such as Itchyworms, 6 Cyclemind, and many more.

Brillantes said the ballots used fictitious foreign names of candidates in order to avoid accidently involving actual candidates in the May polls.

In the May 2010 mock polls, the Comelec also used the names of national heroes in the list of candidates for president and local bands for party-list.

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