Local bets get zero votes as PCOS machines malfunction

Posted at 05/04/10 3:51 AM

Misreading of ballots in mock polls has no particular targets in 4 areas

MANILA, Philippines--Is this a prelude to the glitches that might happen in next week's automated elections?

Several vote counting machines in at least 4 localities on Monday failed to correctly read the ballots and tally the votes during mock polls, affecting local positions and raising concerns that a scenario is being created by some quarters to revert the conduct of the polls to the manual system.

Some candidates for local positions in Pasay City; Makati City; Sto. Tomas, Batangas; and Mamburao, Occidental Mindoro got zero votes despite the fact that their poll watchers accomplished the ballots, and should assure them of as many votes in the results.

The malfunctioning of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines spared no political parties and didn't appear to target particular positions.

Smartmatic, the supplier of the PCOS machines, dismissed the reports as "absolutely false" and branded them as "misinformation."

Abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak got the reports from the affected political camps, and got confirmation from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) that similar reports from those areas also reached the poll body.

The Comelec is not alarmed by the reports, saying that a 1-week window was really alloted for the testing of the machines, so the defective ones can be replaced by new units. Some 6,000 extra PCOS machines are on stand-by, said Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez.

Machines or ballots?

In Sto. Tomas, Batangas, around 80% of all PCOS machines reportedly failed to tally votes properly for the Liberal Party. Noel Ascano, poll watcher from LP, said that votes for LP candidates in the ballots were read by the machine as votes for opposing candidates in the Nationalista Party (NP).

Highly affected by the machine misreading, he claimed, were votes for the positions of vice mayor and councilors.

In Pasay City, over 20 PCOS machines generated zero votes for mayoralty candidate Consuelo Dy of the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP).

According to Dy's watcher and daughter Judy, their camp--as did other political parties--sent 5 watchers per PCOS machine in the mock polls.

For instance, in Juan Sumulong Elementary School, the biggest polling center in the city in terms of voters population, at least 3 PCOS machines gave zero votes for Dy. "Purposely for the testing, we should have at least 15 votes there," she said.

She added that even votes for the senatorial race are also seen with some discrepancies.

"We're not sure if the PCOS machines are not reading properly, or if the ballots are marked," Dy said.

The case is almost similar in Makati City. Reports have it that mayoralty candidates Ernesto Mercado and Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr. got zero, with the mock votes cast for them by the teachers being credited to another mayoralty candidate, Erwin Genuino.

No IT help

In all cases that were reported, the technical people assigned by Smartmatic for each PCOS machine failed to fix the glitches.

Abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak sources who are involved in local campaigns said they do not believe that rival local candidates are behind the zero votes of some aspirants. They cited intelligence reports that the glitches could be a way to cast doubts on the reliability of the PCOS machines, so that the idea of reverting to the manual system will be easier to sell.

Manual polls, veterans believe, is easier to manipulate.

But Smartmatic dismissed the reports. In a text message, the company said: “Absolutely false. Double check, please. There will be many, if not hundreds, of these misinformation spread in the next days.”

Comelec's Jimenez told abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak that the poll body has sent representatives to the affected areas to validate the reports.

Jimenez said that the reported problem is not a major problem for the poll body. “We still have the situation well at hand,” he confidently said.

If the reports are proven true, he explained that the machines will immediately be recalled and replaced. There are more than 6,000 units of machines available as back-up.

“Kaya winindow na 7 days ang testing ng machines bago mag-election. Here we have a chance to replace the machines if needed,” he said. (abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak)