I had the chance to observe the unboxing, set-up and testing of one of the VCM (Vote Counting Machine) located at Bangued West Central School. The Precint covers Barangays Zone 1, Zone 2 and Cabuloan.
The whole process took us almost three hours from start to finish. The BEI (Board of Elections Inspectors) members where a little bit confused how to set it up and it took 3 tries to pass the initial Diagnostic Testing. Asked if they were previously trained, the Chairman said yes but the training was held back in February and there was only a few hands-on activity. Mostly, they were provided with video clips.
Then came the actual testing of the VCM. Representatives from different candidates cast a total of 10 Test Ballots without any hitch. Each time a ballot was fed to the VCM Scanner, a receipt is printed out showing the candidates they voted for.
One of the BEI member then use a scissor to cut the receipt (My question is, Why in the hell a multi million peso VCM machine doesn’t have a built-in cutter?). At this point, there is a chance that the BEI can see the receipt because the voter has the tendency to look in to the receipt while it’s printing.
Once all the ballots were fed into the machine, a tabulated ER (Elections Return) receipts are printed showing totals for each candidates from the President down to the local levels.
The last part of the testing is comparing the votes to the actual ballots and the Printed ER.
This is where questions were raised. The comparison yields some discrepancies notably on the Senatorial Candidates. Candidates like De Lima, Drilon, Gatchalian, Gordon has some votes not counted. Local Candidates matched.
A closer look at the shading of ballots for these candidates, some has incomplete shadings but very visible. Others are complete but the VCM failed to read the shadings. Nevertheless, if this was the actual voting, these candidates were deprived of these votes.
I’m not sure if this is an isolated incident as I am not familiar with the test results from other Poll places. But the point is, this particular VCM wasn’t 100% accurate.
The BEI members have noted these findings in their minutes and will report to their immediate superiors.
As an engineer working in the IT field for a long time, there are shortcomings of these VCM’s but all in all it is a much more improve process that the old manual way of counting votes.
I like the battery backup feature of the VCM. Abra is notorious for unstable power specially during elections and having the batter is a very much welcome feature. In fact, during testing, there were several power interruptions but the machine held its ground.
Some suggested improvements:
1. I’ve mentioned about the built-in cutter. This should be implemented in the next version of this machine. This will eliminate the need for a BEI to even get near the VCM.
2. The Scanning needs to be improved. I’ve noted about the failure of the VCM to read all validate votes. Every vote should be counted. Accuracy should be 100%
3. The Diagnostic Tools should be more intuitive. For instance, during the initial machine diagnostic testing, there should be the ability to skip certain diagnostics where the situations doesn’t apply. E.g. Ethernet testing was not performed since the VCM is not connected to a network.
4. Transmission testing should be performed. This is to test Signal Coverage and will give the COMELEC an idea which locations will be problematic as far as receiving returns. COMELEC will then deploy security escorts to this precints since it will be anticipated that the SD Cards will be physically transported to the Municipal level.
5. Better technical training for the BEI members. It was my first time to see a VCM up close and personal but having experience with computers, I can easily go through each steps without prior knowledge. This is not the case for most of the BEI’s. The manual needs to be more user friendly.
6. The USB port location makes it difficult to insert/remove the USB transmission device.
Can you cheat during this elections? The VCM has enough security feature to avoid tampering of the machine. If there a suspect that the VCM’s SD Cards are tampered (e.g. when results cannot be transmitted electronically), you can always go back to the ballots to verify the results. SD Card switching will only be successful if you have assistance from someone who’s familiar with the VCM’s backend programming. So it is technically possible to cheat but a Candidates would probably shell out a huge amount of money to do this.
But of course if the VCM and/or the Ballots totally disappears, then that’s another question.
The unboxing, set-up and testing process: