The field test in Aguho Elementary School included the scanning of ballots and the transmission of elections results. We observed the following problems from the Aguho field test:
1. The PCOS machine failed to read 4 out of 10 valid ballots, resulting in a 40% failure rate. No satisfactory and definitive explanation was available from both the Comelec and Smartmatic personnel present at the test. The ballots were NOT crumpled and appeared to be in good condition. The Comelec official present could not give an answer as to what will happen to a voter if his/her valid ballot is not read by the machine. Under the new rules, a voter cannot be given a new ballot since the number of ballots per precinct corresponds to the exact number of voters.
2. There were difficulties in internet connection both from the precinct and the municipal board of canvassers. The MBOC relied on GPRS and had to change SIM cards when it could not get a stable connection. Why did it not use the existing stable internet connection at the municipal hall? The precinct meanwhile had to try three different SIM cards and 2 modems in several attempts to transmit results. Only the transmission to the MBOC, proved successful. This was after almost two hours of trying. It appears that the Smartmatic survey on signal strength was either not thorough or was not considered by the technicians who were setting up the system. The 2-hour delay could have been avoided had they known which telco, if any, had the best signal at that area.
3. Failing to transmit data after using the 3 SIM cards, shift to satellite technology was authorized. The Smartmatic technician seemed ill-prepared to set up the Broadband Global Area Network satellite device. The transition from GPRS to BGAN din not run smoothly as the technician, not prepared to set up the BGAN, had to get instructions over the phone. The worst scene was when he was trying to get a random signal around the school grounds by holding the device above his head (like you would when you’re trying to get a cellphone signal).
4. It took three hours to transmit data using different systems. The delay may be attributed to the lack of preparedness of the Comelec-Smartmatic officials in dealing with machine failure. Comelec though considers it a success since data was still transferred. They say the three hour delay was still within the 36-hour period set by Comelec for the transmission of results.
5. The BGAN device was the second to the last option. The Smartmatic technician said the satellite device will only be deployed in areas where signal is weak, such as far flung provinces. He wasn’t expecting using it in Metro Manila. He was not sure if on election day, such a device will also be deployed in highly urbanized areas where cell site signals are supposedly strongest. The failed transmission was in Pateros, a part of Metro Manila, where there was supposed to be stable signal from cell sties.
On February 6, there will be mock elections in several cities and provinces. We should all go and observe and see if things have improved or if we’re headed for a really disastrous May 10 elections.