Less than 100 days to go: Mock polls still not satisfactory:
Renato Reyes, Jr.
The preparation of the election paraphernalia proceeded smoothly, except for the difficulty of having many interested observers who could not have immediate access to the polling center. The number of observers was limited and most of them could only watch through the window. They could not see the actual operation of the machines.
There were 50 pre-selected voters, most of whom were teachers who will act as Board of Election Inspectors on Election Day. Initial reports say that 40 of the voters were teachers. Thus, the idea of testing the system using a wide range of sectors with different levels of understanding was not considered. The teachers were reportedly already had a dry-run a day before the actual mock elections.
Since they were pre-selected voters, they did not go through the possibly time-consuming process of looking up one’s name in the voters list. Interviews done after the voting indicated that some of the teachers were not even voters of the said precinct and were just asked to fill-in slots for the mock elections.
Ten voters at a time were allowed inside the polling precinct. They were given mock ballots that included bands and heroes instead of the names of real candidates.
The average time it took one voter to finish the process was about 5-6 minutes. It may appear fast but we have to remember that the voters were mainly teachers who had been given prior briefings. Also, based on our interviews with the voters, they were not really spending time looking for the names of particular candidates. One Comelec officer in charge of the mock polls admitted that looking up the name of a real candidate/partylist from several hundred names may take more time than just randomly voting for mock candidates. Total time for the 50 voters to finish the process was an hour and 50 minutes, but there were some understandable delays (absence of ground rules for media coverage, physical arrangement of the classroom etc).
All things considered, it would really take more time for 50 people to vote, if we are to factor in looking up one’s name in the voters list and actually looking up the names of real candidates from the 25-inch long ballot. The average time for a voter may exceed the 6 minutes we saw today. A real time and motion study must be conducted by the Comelec.
At this rate, there may not be enough time to allow 1,000 voters per precinct to vote. If 50 voters will need 110 mintues to vote, that would mean 36 hours for 1,000 people to vote. If we speed up the rate, say 1 hour for 50 voters, that would still result to 20 hours for 1,000 people to vote. If we go by a 75% voter turnout, that would still require some 15 hours for 750 people to vote.
Interviews also indicated that some pens ran out of ink. Other voters complained of the font size. One voter was about to use her ballpen to fill up the ballot until a Comelec official saw her and gave her the official felt-tipped pen.
Rejection of ballot
The New Era PCOS machine rejected some five mock ballots. After several failed attempts to read the ballots, they were placed in an envelope and set aside. The voters however were not informed of the reason for the rejection of ballots. They were not given a second ballot nor were they allowed to correct whatever defect that may have been present in the rejected ballot.
At the end of the voting, a Smartmatic personnel explained that the reason why the ballots were rejected was that they were not sufficiently marked, or did not meet the marking threshold (some only showed dots instead of shades). He explained that the ballots contained “ambiguous marks”. Kontra Daya was able to see only one of these ballots that allegedly had “ambiguous marks”. The Comelec refused to let us see the rest of the rejected ballots. We also did not see the screen on the machine which said that the ballots contained “ambiguous marks”.
The Smartmatic technician explained that by fully shading the ballot, the machine will accept the previously rejected ballot. This was demonstrated to the audience in the room.
Kontra Daya raised the issue that the BEI did not inform the voters of the reason/s why their ballots were rejected and did not advise the voters what they can do or if they can vote again. There appears to be no guidelines covering this scenario. We fear this is a major issue that Comelec should address now considering that this is not the first test where ballots were rejected. Similar incidents happened in Aguho Elementary School in Pateros last January 29. It is time that guidelines be set to cover rejected ballots and the voter’s options.
There were no major transmission problems except for the difficulty in transmitting to the KBP server which took four attempts.
Kontra Daya received reports from other areas that there were not enough voters for the mock polls. Also, there were machine glitches in Maharlika Elementary School in Taguig including the jamming of paper and the opening of the PCOS machine.
There should be another round of mock elections to further test the system and to test the guidelines covering rejected ballots. The next round should involve a broader cross-section of society (not just teachers) and must simulate closer-to-actual conditions including the new ballot format, the actual voters list and even an actual manual audit of votes.
We also cannot underscore enough the importance of voters education which the Comelec should be conducting to inform voters of the new system.
One of our greatest fears is that if these issues are not addressed in time for May 10, then we are headed for a trouble-filled election day with many disenfranchised voters.