Voting in Monday’s national and local elections was marred by almost 2,000 malfunctioning vote counting machines (VCMs) that led to long lines at some polling stations, with some voters waiting hours to cast their votes, but the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said polling proceeded “smoothly.”
“We would like to assure everybody that the Comelec is in full control,” said Comelec Commissioner George Garcia as news of malfunctioning VCMs in several Metro Manila cities flooded the airwaves. “The election went on smoothly.”
“Although there were glitches in the use of VCMs, particularly in Pasay, Malabon and in Muntinlupa, these were immediately restored and no single ballot was reportedly missing,” he said.
The statement did not jibe with reports pouring in from polling stations in Makati, Quezon City and Pasig City where voters had to wait hours for the VCMs to be repaired of for SD cards to be delivered—and refused to sign a waiver that would allow the Board of Election Inspectors to feed their ballots into the machines when they were finally repaired.
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) slammed the Comelec as reports of VCM failures swamped the group’s election hotline.
“VCM failures have forced members of the electoral board to leave voters with unpalatable options—wait until the machine is fixed, sign a waiver stating their voluntary submission of their filled ballots for the electoral board to feed into the machine once fixed, or come back and vote later in the day when the machine has been fixed,” the group said in a statement.
The watchdog group Kontra Daya reported that about 2,000 VCMs malfunctioned in the first six hours of voting Monday. Aside from machine failures and errors, numerous reports of corrupted SD cards have also reached ACT Teachers Hotline.
Kontra Daya said it received and monitored numerous reports of voters being told to leave their ballots behind, either because voters were senior citizens, persons with disabilities, or machines were malfunctioning.
Long lines, manual voting and missing names in voters lists were also among the problems faced by voters piling into various polling precincts all over the country Monday.
Kontra Daya spokesperson Danny Arao estimated that 1.1 million voters were affected by the VCM breakdowns.
“The long lines and longer voting times are a looming reason for voter disenfranchisement,” Arao said.
Kontra Daya said it is the choice of voters to wait for their ballots to be fed to VCMs. Prohibiting voters from doing so may result in loss of confidence in the results of the election, it said.
“Paper jams and rejected ballots are common errors faced by voters. In some areas, machines have fully broken down, resulting in massive delays in voting as it can take upwards of three hours or even more for a machine to be replaced,” the group said.
According to guidelines set by the Comelec, if the vote-counting machine breaks down, voters can choose to wait for a replacement machine or have their vote inserted by a member of the election board when a replacement machine has been received.
“In the latter case, the voters must waive their right to receive a receipt confirming their vote, which can be a source of voter fraud,” the poll watchdog said.
The group had asked the Comelec to extend the voting hours following reports of malfunctioning VCMs in various parts of the country.
“With the volume of reports coming in to Kontra Daya regarding VCM breakdowns, as well as the longer time required to vote due to enforcement of health protocols, there is a large chance that many voters will be unable to vote or get cut off in line as the 7 p.m. cut-off approaches,” it said.
“Already, Kontra Daya has received reports of voters unable to wait for long lines or replacement machines, instead opting to go home. This is voter disenfranchisement,” it added.
ACT said the Comelec and its partner F2 Logistics must be held accountable for “these massive machine failures.”
“How can these machines pass the final testing and sealing but bog down in the first hours of voting? Also, the Comelec’s slow response to troubleshoot the machine problems is delaying the conduct of the elections,” said Raymond Basilio, an ACT nominee.
Garcia acknowledged that some 1,867 VCMs had malfunctioned—representing 1.7 percent of the 107,345 used in Monday’s elections.
Garcia said these problems had been anticipated.
But delays in the electronic transmission of results led the Comelec to suspend the canvassing of votes in the afternoon.
“At this point, we are still awaiting electronic transmission of the results and, therefore, this canvass is hereby suspended to resume tomorrow at one o’clock in the afternoon,” Comelec Chairman Saidamin Pangarungan said.
The Comelec will be canvassing votes only up to the senatorial positions. The presidential and vice-presidential votes will be canvassed by Congress when it resumes session on May 23.
Meanwhile, Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) said they also received reports of VCMs glitches while numerous registered voters also complained that their names were not listed in the Comelec’s official list despite voting in the 2019 local elections.
“As in the past election, the VCM issues are rising,” said Myla Villanueva, PPCRV chairperson.
Comelec Commissioner Marlon Casquejo said the VCMs used Monday will no longer be used in succeeding polls.
The VCMs are old and will be replaced, starting in the 2025 midterm elections, he said.
“I think this is the last dance of our VCMs. We will no longer use [them] in the 2025 elections. Even if we say that only a small budget will be given in 2025, we will insist we would not use these VCMs anymore for the succeeding elections,” he said in a press briefing at the Philippine International Convention Center Forum Tent in Pasay City.
“Even under the COA (Commission on Audit) rules, the lifespan of our technical machines is only five years. These machines are already close to nine years (old),” he added.
The VCMs were first used in the 2016 national and local elections.
The automated election was implemented in 2010 using precinct counting optical scan machines that were also used in 2013.
Meanwhile, the Comelec has tapped Philippine National Police (PNP) personnel as special electoral boards to man 175 polling precincts in Cotabato City after the original electoral boards backed out from serving for Monday’s polls due to “perceived threats.”
“There are 175 clustered precincts that are, right now, being manned by the Philippine National Police Special Electoral Boards,” said acting Comelec spokesman John Rex Laudiangco in a press briefing.
“One of the factors is the perceived threats. There was no actual harm or threat done to the EBs. But there (are) perceived threats to their persons. This is why they manifested to our officials that they opt not to serve,” he said.
Under the Election Service Reform Act, in cases where the peace and order situation requires and there are no qualified voters willing to serve, uniformed personnel of the PNP shall be deputized to render election service “as a last resort.”
Despite assurances from the Department of Energy that the supply of power was sufficient for election day, there were about 201 power interruptions in 61 electric cooperatives on Monday.
The average duration of power interruption was 74 minutes, the DOE said.
DOE said five distribution utilities (DUs) experienced a total of seven interruptions. The average duration of power interruption is 74 minutes.