Monday, May 10, 2010

DIGITAL DEMOCRACY DAWNS (50M to vote in first automated elections)

Monday, 10 May 2010 00:00

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Some 50,723,734 registered voters are expected to cast their ballots in the first nationwide automated elections today, (Monday), making use of some 82,200 Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines supplied by the joint venture of Smartmatic and Total Information Management (TIM). With the completion of the delivery of the PCOS machines, ballot boxes, pre-printed ballots and other election paraphernalia to some 76,000 clustered precincts of the country’s 7,106 islands on Sunday, the poll body was expecting a successful conduct of the historic computerized polls.

‘98 percent prepared’
Commissioner Rene Sarmiento of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) also on Sunday said that the poll body was almost “98-percent prepared” for conducting the automated elections.

“Based on assessment, we will be hitting 98-percent preparedness. The 2 percent that we will not meet, we will have contingency plan,” Sarmiento added.

Malacañang deputy spokesman Gary Olivar also on Sunday noted the significance of today’s elections, not only to the country, but also to Asia’s political history, saying that “digital democracy” will help ensure continuity of Philippine republican institutions and processes.

“The whole world is watching today, as too our young to whom we bequeath the future benefits of this innovation in suffrage,” Olivar added.

He assured that Monday’s political exercise will be credible despite earlier glitches in the PCOs machines—the heart of the automated balloting.

“The elections will be a success,” Olivar said, also noting that the police, military, public-school teachers and the whole machinery of the executive department under will do their share along with hundreds of thousands volunteers from the private sector.

Peaceful transition
Olivar reminded the people to vote only their conscience, saying that the truly wasted vote is the one that is sold for money or merely traded for the opinions of a handful of survey respondents.

He also assured Filipinos that after the elections, regardless of results, the Arroyo administration will put all of its resources behind a successful transition of power.

Projected areas that were seen to receive compact flash cards late, and thereby delay testing and sealing procedures of the PCOS machines, are one municipality in Northern Samar and one in Abra.

Sarmiento, however, said that these places were “historically problematic and inaccessible areas.”

He counted Nueva Vizcaya with the municipalities in Northern Samar and Abra as areas that might be in the 2-percent worst-case scenario although the problem with Nueva Vizcaya was on the i-buttons, not the flash cards.

Still, the commissioner said that “efforts are being made” to deliver the cards to Northern Samar and Abra.

He added that the 2-percent projected worst-case scenario will cover about one million, or fewer registered voters compared with the 5-percent scenario raised earlier by the commission.

Problems over
Comelec Chairman Jose Melo also on Sunday said that problems with the wrong configuration of the compact flash cards are over since all election paraphernalia have reached designated polling precincts.

“We have a reason to smile. Our big problem, which caused this big worry are the compact flash cards.
Now, all the machines, all the PCOS machines and all the ballots are in place. They are in voting places,” Melo told a press conference at the Philippine International Convention Center, where the national canvassing center is now located.

He reported that the entire Luzon area, except for Nueva Vizcaya, “is okay.”

Melo, though, said that the problem with the province is not with the delivery of the reconfigured flash cards, but with the i-buttons for the PCOS machines.

He added that the issue with the i-buttons was being remedied since new i-buttons are on their way to the province to replace computer chips that had malfunctioned.

A problem earlier arose in Nueva Vizcaya where some of the PCOS units’ buttons have conked out.

Smartmatic Southeast Asia President Cesar Flores said that the i-buttons will allow the members of the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) to access the menu of the PCOS machines.

“It [i-button] is a key to activate the menu. It will allow you to access the menu of the machines. If you cannot access, you cannot open, close or print,” he added.

Flores explained that i-buttons are mere computer chips that can be found in common elevators.

“We’re sending new buttons now,” he said.

“That does not affect the accuracy of the machines, but are needed to start the machines. We have lifted it already in Nueva Vizcaya. Tomorrow morning, there will be air assets to help distribute to precincts in Nueva Vizcaya,” Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal, the head of the poll body’s steering committee, said.

Melo said that around 70 percent to 75 percent of the PCOS machines have undergone testing and sealing procedures. “This will go up probably by 6 p.m. today [Sunday]. There are places [that] will work even at night time. We are confident by tomorrow [Monday] there’ll be very few places where the [compact flash cards] will not be tested.”

He reiterated, however, that even without the testing and sealing of machines, registered voters can still go out and vote as ballots cast can be dropped into ballot boxes and counted later on.

Flash cards
But as soon as the cards have been tested and sealed together with the machines, the ballots will be counted and simultaneously transmitted to provincial, municipal and national canvassing centers, as well as to the servers of the accredited poll watchdog Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkasters ng Pilipinas (KBP) and the dominant majority and dominant minority parties.

The dominant majority status was earlier given to administration party Lakas-Kampi Christian Muslim Democrats and the dominant minority party status, to the Liberal Party.

A compact flash card sends instructions to the PCOS machines on how to read and count the ballots cast.

Voters are set to elect a president, vice president, 12 senators, 230 congressmen, 57 party-list seats in the House of Representatives, 80 governors, 80 vice governors, 766 members of provincial boards, 137 city mayors, 137 vice mayors, 1,524 city councilors, 1,497 municipal mayors, 1,497 municipal vice mayors and 11,980 municipal legislative positions or a total of 17,999 positions.

Joint venture
Smartmatic-TIM was awarded the P7.2-billion automation contract in May last year after submitting the lowest calculated bid that reached the technical, logistical and financial requirements of the poll body’s limited P11.2-billion budget for automating the 2010 polls.

Although Smartmatic and TIM has cleared hurdles in their partnership—with reports of administrative and financial misunderstandings between the two camps—Melo has managed to patch up issues between the Barbados-based Smartmatic and the Filipino-owned TIM.

With the contract signed and the agreement between the Comelec and the PCOS supplier cemented, the poll body immediately suited up for the first nationwide automated elections.

Smartmatic-TIM in February this year completed the delivery of some 82,200 PCOS machines after hurdling some shipping problems and after transferring the production of the machines from Taiwan to China.

It was also tapped by the Comelec to print more than 50 million official ballots, with a ratio of one ballot per voter.

Smartmatic-TIM decided to partner with the National Printing Office (NPO) in Quezon City to print the official ballots that would be 11 inches by 27 inches for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and 11 inches by 25 inches for the rest of the country.

Longer ballot
A longer ballot was needed to be printed for the ARMM because of the Arabic translation that the ballot required.

Names of national candidates were printed at the front while those of local candidates were printed at the back.

The ballots have a number of security measures including Comelec markings, bar codes, specialized papers and ultraviolet marks.

The PCOS machines will be able to scan Comelec markings and the bar codes.

But the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs), the overseer of election proceedings in precincts, would have to make use of ultraviolet lamps to scan the ultraviolet marks on the ballots.

Earlier, a glitch in schedule forced the poll body to forego the NPO ultraviolet marks.

The country’s first automated elections system will make use of the PCOS machines, a new generation Optical Mark Recognition (OMR).

Under this system, the machines were programmed to print copies of election returns and will also make use of paper ballots—a requirement under Republic Act 9369, or the poll automation law.

Voters would need to shade ovals placed at the corresponding candidates’ names, but Comelec spokesman James Jimenez earlier reminded voters not to overshade or undershade.

Jimenez said that the voters should not smudge the ballots nor can they fold or crumple them since the PCOS machines would not be able to read them once they are affected by many external factors.

There should be at least 50 percent of the ovals shaded, so the PCOS machines would be able to read the votes cast.

After shading the right number of ovals for national and local positions, each voter would need to feed the ballot to the PCOS machines, which would automatically count the ballots.

By 6 p.m., the members of the BEIs would start transmitting results of votes per precincts to municipal, provincial and national canvassing centers, as well as to the servers of the PPCRV, KBP and dominant majority party and the dominant minority party.

The Comelec expects the results of voting for all local candidates to be in at the end of Monday while national candidates would have to wait for 36 hours to 48 hours for the voting results.

Teachers ready
The Department of Education (DepEd) also on Sunday said that it was “all systems go” for the computerized elections and that its 229,020 teachers in the BEIs are ready to do their duty to ensure the success of the polls.

“Our teachers, our superintendents, our election task forces all over the country are all set for Monday’s polls. We have been preparing for this for a long time and I am confident of the readiness of our BEIs in the different clustered precincts across the country,” Education Secretary Mona Valisno said.

She added that the Education department does not foresee any disruptions to the polls except for technical problems that may delay the start of voting.

“Our teachers will not tolerate any delays on their part. Our BEIs have been trained by the Comelec and are certified by the Department of Science and Technology. They have been deployed and are now in place as we speak in the various precincts doing testing and sealing of the PCOS machines,” Valisno said.

“Should there be delay caused by technical problems with the PCOS machines, we ask our voters to be patient while Comelec and Smartmatic technicians resolve these,” she added.

Education spokesman and Assistant Secretary Jonathan Malaya said that the machines and replacement compact flash cards are now being delivered to schools but the Comelec itself expected delays in the delivery with some areas only receiving theirs on election day itself.

DepEd hotlines
The Comelec, according to Malaya, has committed to provide one technician per clustered precinct on election day “so we hope that they will be in place should technical problems arise.”

He said that the BEI members may also contact the DepEd Election Task Force (ETF) Operation Centers in Manila and in the various provinces for information and technical and legal assistance while performing their duties.

The various BEIs across the country can call the DepEd National Operations Center at hotlines: 02-6337259, 638-8636, 633-7247, 635-4933, 632-8491 and 636-4996 or thru e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . They may also text the DepEd Action Center at 0919-4560027.

Malaya said that in the unlikely event that the BEI members sustain election-related injuries, the Comelec has set aside some P30 million as part of a teachers’ compensation arrangement.

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