Senators set review of midterm election glitches on June 4

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THE Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms and People’s Participation, wielding oversight powers, is poised to summon Commission on Elections (Comelec) officials to review and assess the need for remedial legislation to avert reported glitches attending the May 20 computerized electoral process.

“We will call the Comelec [on June 4],” Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, committee chairman, confirmed, after receiving reports of malfunctioning voting machines, even as the senator admitted he himself did not encounter any problem when he voted on Monday. “My personal experience is that it was a smooth election, wala akong problema [I had no problem].”

However, Pimentel cited complaints reaching his office “of voting machines not functioning and ballots not being accepted” by the vote-counting machines (VCM). The senator noted there were “just too many complaints…. The problems should have been anticipated.”

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian earlier called on the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Election System to look into the series of glitches that occurred in the 2019 midterm elections.

“We want to preserve the integrity and credibility of our automated elections,” said Gatchalian. “Hence, there is a need to look into the issues encountered by the Comelec during the recentlyconcluded elections so we can avoid repeating them in succeeding elections.”

Gatchalian griped that there were “hiccups that occurred in a number of areas on election day, causing delays in voting.”

He noted reports that many VCM and Secure Digital (SD) cards malfunctioned. Gatchalian said malfunctioning VCM delayed voting in a number of areas, including Pasig, Makati, San Juan and parts of Cavite, adding that a total of 961 VCM, or 1.1 percent out of 85,769, malfunctioned in 2019, compared to 801 during the 2016 elections.

He aired concerns about the number of defective SD cards, noting that it “jumped from just 120 in 2016 to 1,665 this year.”

Then, there was the “buggy software” controversy over the Comelec transparency server, housed in the command center of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), which suffered a seven-hour data outage, delaying the transmission of unofficial results to media partners.

Further complicating the server issue, he noted that several news outlets monitoring election results noticed a sudden drop in transmitted results from the Comelec early on Tuesday. From 93 percent of the total votes received at 5:20 a.m., the number plunged to 49 percent just 30 minutes later.

Moreover, Gatchalian cited reports of VRVM (voters registration verification machines) that malfunctioned, especially in Maguindanao and Cotabato City.

Reports reaching Gatchalian’s office also showed a total of 776 or 72 percent of VRVMs in Maguindanao and Cotabato City failed to work, resulting in voters having to go through manual verification on election day. “All these issues call into question the integrity of the elections. Worse, [there may be] voters [who were] disenfranchised,” added Gatchalian.

At the same time, Gatchalian grumbled over the Comelec’s failure to prevent what he described as “avoidable problems” despite its hefty P10.178-billion budget. “Comelec had a big budget, and yet, there were still too many issues. We can’t blame the public if they are wary of cheating because the multiple glitches did nothing to allay their fears,” the senator said, partly in Filipino.

Even if no cheating had taken place, public confidence might have been so affected because people were worried by the “fluctuating numbers,” he added.

Still, Gatchalian’s gripe was appeased by the performance of teachers who served as members of the board of election inspectors (BEIs), prompting the senator to “thank them for their patience despite the glitches and the sweltering heat.”

He aired hopes that the government would no longer deduct withholding tax from the teachers’ honoraria, an issue that the teachers had long been raised with Comelec and the BIR.

Image credits: Roy Domingo


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