One does not simply engage in a war unprepared aside from COMELEC.
Seven days prior to the May 13 elections, volunteers from the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) and Automated Elections (AES) Watch trooped to the UP Integrated School to observe the Final Testing and Sealing (FTS) of Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines.
First-hand experiences and incident reports recorded nationwide affirm the stark and bitter realities that the COMELEC has always been ridiculously trying to conceal: the 2013 automated elections is nothing but a concrete testimony to the blatant unpreparedness of the country when it comes to modernizing its electoral processes and procedures.
The Final Testing and Sealing at the UP Integrated School, along with the rest of clustered precincts in cities located in the National Capital Region, was slated on May 6 at exactly eight in the morning. Members of the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI), consisting of public school teachers and government officials, arrived at the school on time yet the lack of authorized poll watchers delayed the FTS. At around 10am, the FTS was centralized in order to pool the very few number of poll watchers and concerned citizens who will witness the process.
Problems came surfacing one after another during and after the installation of PCOS machines. Technical glitches involved the malfunctioning touchscreen technology that hindered some BEIS from efficiently keying in their codes. Some had to press the screen multiple times for the touch to register.
For another, lack of plastic seals that will ensure PCOS security after the FTS were missing from the packages so BEIS have to resort to the use of masking tapes. This does not only meant entail lesser security measures for PCOS machines but it also entail legality issues.
Lastly, the COMELEC did not provide recording materials like papers, pens and other related supplies. As such, BEIs have to resort to using scratch papers when they need to record the voters and poll watchers who attended the FTS.
COMELEC technicians that were present in FTS yesterday only numbered two and this proved to be insufficient to address the problems encountered by BEIs in numerous precincts in UPIS.
Another main issue that emerged from the FTS was the lack of training and seminars on automation among BEIs. Lack of proper briefing prior to the FTS brought confusion and miscommunication. More so, BEIs were not given training regarding the installation of PCOS batteries. In response to this issue, COMELEC is said to provide the training only after the FTS. BEIs also voiced out their concern on the apparent disregard for testing the transmission of election returns since this is the main highlight of the FTS.
Very few voters attended the FTS so volunteers had no other choice but to act as poll watchers and BEI assistants simultaneously. Instead of merely observing the FTS process, volunteers became part of the parallel manual count, too.
Given the issues and problems that arose from the FTS, it cannot be denied that massive electoral failures are about to take place on May 13. In this regard, the public needs to remain, as ever, vigilant and critical.
*This was written by an AES volunteer who monitored Monday’s final testing and sealing (FTS)