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Defective VCMs spoil PH 2022 elections; poll watchdog calls for voting extension amid disenfranchisement concerns

By NICK GARCIA Published May 09, 2022 3:54 pm Updated May 09, 2022 3:57 pm

About 2,000 defective vote-counting machines (VCMs) have spoiled the opening of the country's May 9 elections—leaving affected voters disappointed and a poll watchdog warning against the potential disenfranchisement of a million voters.

Around 10:30AM, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said the defective VCMs encountered "common issues":

  • Paper jams - 940
  • Rejected ballots - 606
  • VCM scanner malfunction - 158
  • VCM printer not printing - 87
  • Not printing properly - 76

Comelec Commissioner George Garcia, however, said these have been resolved already after the affected units were either repaired or replaced.

In the first few hours that the polls opened, a number of voters took to social media to complain about VCM problems in their respective polling precincts.

Among them was vice presidential spokesman Barry Gutierrez, who lamented how he lined up as early as 5:30AM, only to be told to "just come back" due to VCM problems in his polling precinct.

"[T]hey're telling us may problema daw sa VCM and we should just come back," he said. "Walang oras na binigay."

At around 9:00AM, Gutierrez said he and fellow voters were waiting for three hours and counting, as others were "getting angry" already.

By 11:00AM, the spokesman said they were "finally offered" the option to vote manually after over four hours of waiting and were given the choice to leave their ballots to be fed to the VCM later on upon troubleshooting.

"Some of us took this option, but a substantial number chose to wait," he said.

Twitter user @athilaerika_ also cited an "election glitch" in Sorgoson, where VCMs and SD cards malfunctioned, befuddling voters if their ballots have already been counted.

A certain David Baldivia, meanwhile, said that while his ballot was counted, he encountered an issue with the printing of receipts as the VCM lacked paper.

Some 106,000 VCMs are being used for the day-long polls. Of that number, 10,000 VCMs were leased by Comelec and 97,000 were from the past elections that underwent refurbishment.

For quality assurance, Comelec even conducted final testing and sealing of the VCMs from May 2 to 7.

VCM issues 'isolated cases,' Comelec in 'full control'

Commissioner Marlon Casquejo called earlier incidents about defective VCMs as "isolated cases."

Casquejo also took back earlier data provided to reporters that there are 1,100 contingency VCMs, saying there are 1,900 backup units already after over 800 defective machines have been repaired before election day.

The poll body officials assured the electorate that they are in "full control" of the situation.

Casquejo, however, acknowledged that the defective VCMs, despite undergoing tests and turning out okay at the start, may have conked out since these were also used in the 2016 elections.

"Medyo may edad na ang mga makina natin," he said. "Sa tingin ko ito na iyong last dance ng ating VCMs. Di na gagamitin for 2025."

VCM malfunction remedy

Based on Comelec's existing rules in the event of a malfunctioning equipment, voters have two options: they may continue voting and leave their ballots to be batch-fed to the VCMs later on or wait for the VCMs to get repaired and feed it themselves.

"Dalawang options nyo. Bumoto at iwan ang balota, or maghintay hanggang pwede na uli magamit ang makina," Jimenez said.

Former Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon also assured voters that poll watchers will keep an eye on the pile of ballots while waiting for a technician to fix or replace the faulty VCM.

"You can vote and watchers can watch your pile of voted ballots until they are fed to a VCM," Guanzon said. "Don't worry. Just vote."

Voting hours extension amid disenfranchisement concerns

Poll watchdog Kontra Daya, meanwhile, is calling on Comelec to consider extending voting hours beyond 7:00PM in light of the VCM issues.

Kontra Daya noted that with about 65.7 million registered voters and 106,000 clustered precincts having one VCM each, it translates to about 619 voters per clustered precinct. Citing earlier reports of 1,800 defective VCMs, the poll watchdog said it would translate to some 1.1 million affected voters, "a substantial number especially for electoral races that are tightly contested."

"The breakdown of VCMs and the long lines, among other issues, have affected the turnaround time in voting," Kontra Daya said in a statement. "Extending voting hours can help prevent disenfranchisement."

Comelec earlier said that voting will take place from 6:00AM to 7:00PM, and no extensions will be made. Garcia also reiterated this during the poll body's noontime press conference.

"Extension of voting hours is negative," Garcia said. "Nothing will justify extension of voting at this point."

The National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), for its part, said that while there's a "perennial problem" indeed regarding malfunctioning equipment, the 7:00PM deadline is "doable."

"Ang assessment namin, maayos at mapayapa ang pagpapatakbo (ng elections)," Namfrel Sec. Gen. Eric Alvia said. "May mga ilan-ilang concern na binato sa atin...pero naresolbahan naman ang mga ito."