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Faulty VCMs, showers and protests mar Day 2 of overseas vote

15 April 2019

Voters transferred from rooms where the VCMs malfunctioned line up to submit their ballots in another room.


By Vir B. Lumicao
 
Light rain and the failure of two automated vote-counting machines (VCM) marred what would have been a seamless second day of the month-long overseas voting by Filipinos in Hong Kong.
 
Light showers interrupted the steady stream of voters to Bayanihan Centre in Kennedy Town on Apr 14, as soon as the voting center opened at 9am.
 
Consul General Antonio Morales announced in a media briefing after 5pm that close to 2,500 voters cast their ballot on Sunday, more than twice the tally from the opening day. That brought the two-day total to  about 3,400, he said. 
 
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The wet weather was cited by some of the voters as a turn-off. The day’s last voter, Marilyn Encab, who arrived shortly before polling closed at 5pm, said she had dilly-dallied before deciding to vote because of the rain.
 
But the biggest incidents involved two malfunctioning VCMs.

“We encountered two vote counting machine failures … hindi tinanggap ang ating balota, and we did go through the procedure kung paano iyon aayusin, pero hindi pa rin naayos,” Consul General Antonio Morales told a media briefing afterwards. 
 
The VCM breakdowns occurred in the rooms used by SBEI (Special Board of Election Inspectors) 2 and 4, Morales said.
 
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The machines refused to read the ballots of about 15 voters from the two rooms at about 4pm, so they were transferred to SBEI 9 where they fed their ballots to the VCM after the SD cards of the faulty machines were inserted in the new machine.
 
The problem caused a delay of about half an hour for the affected voters as they waited for the last ballot in the room to be cast before the machine could be set up for them.
 
Morales said the faulty machines were replaced with back-up machines and the Commission on Elections IT department was consulted about the problem.
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“We don’t know what caused these malfunctions in the VCMs. Siguro hindi sanay sa sobrang dami ng tao. Kahapon ay kaunti lang, hindi naman nangyari,” Morales said.
 
“We will take action and we have enough machines to count all the votes,” he added.
 
He said there were challenges and protests, and there was one spoiled ballot.
 

“Katulad din kahapon, may dalawang kaso na naguhitan din ang bar code, hindi na binasa, at meron ding nagsabi na sumobra raw ang boto niya sa sinulat niya, and we have reported that to the Comelec,” the consul general said.
But the more serious complaint was about a Liberal Party watcher being refused by a SBEI member to reoccupy the party’s seat that had been taken over by a party-list watcher when the LP reliever did not come on time.
 
Morales said the Comelec rules state that watchers of the major parties should have priority in a room in case of overcrowding. But he said if a watcher left for a prolonged period, it would not be good human relations to evict a party-list watcher who occupies it.
 
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“Kung sa tingin nyo ay may probisyon ng ating batas na nilabag sila, maari din kayong magreklamo. But I will remind them to follow the rules to give priority to the accredited political parties and, if there is doubt, to resolve that in favor of the accredited political parties,” said Morales.
 
He admitted that he has no authority over the SBEIs because they are directly responsible to the Comelec. But Comelec has also deputised him as the general supervisor of the electoral process in Hong Kong.
 
Meanwhile, two groups of campaigners belonging to different camps reportedly had a shouting match at past midday on the sidewalk just outside Bayanihan that prompted police to intervene. 
 
Some witnesses said the stand-off began when members of a pro-Duterte group heckled campaigners belonging to the Cibac party-list.
 
Later in the afternoon, an American supporter of the Otso Diretso opposition senatorial slate was allegedly set upon by a pro-Duterte group. But Bayan Muna campaigners who were in the area intervened and led the besieged supporter out of harm’s way.
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