Voters and poll watchers question the issues as broken machines jam long queues in constituencies

MANILA, Philippines — Barely halfway through Election Day, broken voting machines and technical difficulties have forced voters to wait for hours in the sun just to exercise their right to vote.

The Electoral Commission admitted to registering nearly 1,900 voting machines plagued with “common problems” across the country, including paper jams, rejected ballots and printing complications.

Even at sites without any technical difficulty – including Loyola Grand Villas and the adjacent Miriam College – voters who arrived early in the morning were still in line at 3 p.m. Stories of similar experiences across the country have since gone viral on social media.

At the grounds of Pinyahan Elementary School in Quezon City, Comelec’s third electoral board member, Rowena Nilo, said that the SD card of a vote counting machine was corrupted and taken by a technician.

She admitted there was no assurance he could be replaced today, adding that voters instead had to choose whether they wanted to wait or trust Comelec to insert their votes later in the day. that would be observed by the survey monitoring groups present in the area. .

In the next room in Pinyahan, a VCM malfunctioned and completely stopped working after being turned on earlier in the morning. Comelec, again, did not specify when it could send a replacement.

Limuel Lopez, area volunteer leader for the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, said that the two VCMs had everything to do with the long queues around the center.

“What’s happening now is that the vote insertion is manual, so people are getting frustrated and the queues are getting longer,” he said in Filipino.

At the Teacher’s Village East compound, two corrupted SD cards also forced a number of voters to wait from 6 a.m. until noon. Maia Dapul, a 24-year-old voter, said that the machines in question had been broken from the start since the opening of the enclosure.

“We had been waiting for a technician to arrive ever since. They weren’t informed that a technician was on the way at 9 a.m. and they didn’t arrive until 11:40 a.m.,” she said, adding that a number of voters eventually left their places. online out of frustration.

“I was here for 5 hours and I can feel everyone’s frustration, that the start of the day was already broken,” she added in a mix of Filipino and English.

Comelec technician Kyle Cruz could not say when the replacement SD cards would arrive as they would come from Comelec’s main office in Malacanang.

He added that the SD cards worked fine when tested three days ago when no one else had access to them. He could not tell why the SD card corruption happened on two sites.

52-year-old poll watcher Cherry Jane Cortiguerra, who serves in the office of Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte, lamented the sudden breakdown at Teacher’s Village East, which ultimately left only one counting machine votes working for the whole site.

“I’ve been voting here for so long. This is the first time this has happened, and it’s taken them so long to get here,” she said. in Filipino. “How could they let this happen? They should have prepared for it.”

Why is this important?

In these cases, voters have a choice: leave their ballots for Comelec staff to insert later – possibly via manual counting if the machines are not repaired in time – or wait for repairs so that they can insert their votes. personally.

“If this is going to happen, I want to witness it. I need to know that my receipt is correct and that my vote is correctly counted. If that means I have to wait until 7 p.m., I could do that”, Dapul said. .

Tranqui Encarnacion, Parish Pastoral Council Volunteer for Responsible Voting, said that mistakes like this leave the door open for further manipulation.

“It really makes you wonder why they worked in the final test, but suddenly on election day,” he said. “What if the new SD cards already contain data? Poll watchers should really keep an eye out.”

What could have gone better? “They should have reported it directly to Comelec,” he said in Filipino, pointing out that Comelec staff only arrived to take the corrupted SD card hours after the issue was reported to voters online. . “It should have been much earlier.”

In a statement, election watchdog Kontra Data urged the committee to extend the deadline to vote beyond the original 7 p.m. schedule, saying that with the delays, ‘there is a high likelihood that many voters will not be able to vote until 7 p.m.’

“Kontra Daya has received reports of voters returning home after being unable to wait due to long queues or the arrival of replacement machines. This is a clear case of disenfranchisement,” he said.

“Extending voting hours will allow more voters to cast their ballots and allow time for COMELEC to resolve voting-related issues.”

But during a press briefing on Monday afternoon, Comelec commissioner and electoral lawyer George Garcia said that “nothing would justify” such an extension.

“At least we have repair centers this time. What is important is that the poll watchers see that we put them in the VCMs. They are our contingency. We have no choice because the machines break,” Garcia said.

“The purpose of the tests is really to print a zero receipt, to show voters that the machines are empty. But that does not guarantee that the machine will not have problems. What is important is that it account correctly.”

In a separate statement sent to the media, the Human Rights Commission said it had noted recurring and long-standing human rights violations attributed to the elections, such as the disenfranchisement of several vulnerable groups, including indigenous peoples, people with disabilities and older people; as well as vote buying, voter fraud, voter intimidation and harassment, and election-related violence.

“The strong shift to digital platforms, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, has also enabled the proliferation of fake news and massive disinformation campaigns by armies of online trolls,” the CHR statement read.

“As concerned citizens, let us respect the sanctity of our ballots. Let us collectively protect the freedom, integrity and credibility of our votes. general elections.”

with reporting by Kaycee Valmonte