Cold, damp weather blamed
Hiccups were blamed this time on the cold and damp Hong Kong weather.
On the second day of the overseas absentee voting here, the precinct count optical scan machines (PCOS) at the Bayanihan Kennedytown Center did not immediately accept the ballots from voters at Precincts 15 and 16 shortly after they reopened at 8 a.m. Sunday.
Inspection of the ballots showed no stray and ambiguous marks on the ballots that could result in their rejection by the PCOS machines.
At Precinct 16, a replacement machine was brought in after 45 minutes and worked well. But at Precinct 15, the two substitutes didn’t function, prompting technicians to reinstall the supposedly faulty equipment, which surprisingly operated without problems.
Within several hours, balloting in the two precincts went on smoothly, as it did elsewhere in the world since Saturday, when 589,000 overseas Filipinos began to cast their ballots a month before the actual polling in the Philippines.
Results from the overseas voting will be known after the May 10 balloting when the absentee votes will be counted simultaneously with those cast in the Philippines.
Officials of Smartmatic-TIM Corp. said initial findings pointed to the “combination of cold and humidity” in Hong Kong for the malfunctioning machine in Precincts 15 and 16. They expressed confidence that this would not happen in the Philippines.
The rooms where the machines were stored were “a little humid,” said Cesar Flores, president of Smartmatic Asia
, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) partner in the first nationwide automated elections in the Philippines.
The ballots, on the other hand, were placed in an air-conditioned room, which protected it from the humid weather. When they were brought outside, the “ballots expanded,” Flores said.
He said the machines had to be “acclimatized” to the varying room temperatures. “Let it warm up in an air-conditioned place.”
Henrietta de Villa, chair of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, said that she noticed that the ballots were slightly curled because of the moisture.
Flores said what happened in Hong Kong would not be repeated in the Philippines.
The PCOS machines are being used only in Hong Kong and Singapore, where there are a total of 127,000 voters.
In other countries, registered migrant workers will either personally cast their ballots at the nearest diplomatic post or mail ballot packets that had been sent to them.
In Hong Kong, voting is scheduled for 30 days until May 10, which exposes the machines and the ballots to varying temperatures.
In the Philippines, the balloting will only be held for a day.
“The ballots are vacuum-sealed. They will only be opened on Election Day. You don’t have the risk of moisture getting into the ballots,” Flores said.
The weather in the Philippines is also dry and not humid like Hong Kong’s, he added.
Election Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said he was not alarmed by the breakdown of the machines. “We saw this happened and the backup kicked in right away,” he said.
“One good thing was that they were ready for contingency matters,” De Villa added.
Aside from the technical glitches, there were procedural complaints from voters who could not find their names in the computerized voter’s list.
De Villa said the special board of election inspectors had been directed to forward the names of these people to the Comelec to verify their delisting.
She noted similar complaints in previous elections, but that 90 percent of these voters were subsequently able to vote.
Voting in Hong Kong on the second day went on full blast. As of noon Sunday, around 1,300 Filipinos had voted. On Saturday, 997 people voted, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
The 20 precincts at the Bayanihan Kennedytown Center, where there are 20 poll precincts for the 96,000 voters, opened at 8 a.m. Sunday and the flow of Filipino voters steadily increased shortly after.
Hong Kong Consul General Claro Cristobal said he expected the number of voters to increase, pointing out that migrant workers in Hong Kong take the day off on Sunday.
The DFA said 4,141 Filipinos voted on the first day of the overseas absentee voting.
The department’s Overseas Absentee Voting Secretariat reported that as of 11:20 a.m. Sunday Manila time, the Philippine Consulate General in Hong Kong had the most number of votes cast.
The Philippine Embassy in London followed with 558 and then the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh with 266.
The other diplomatic offices with the highest turnouts were in Chicago, 242; Singapore, 218; Jeddah, 180; Berlin, 144; Madrid, 135; Bangkok, 118; and Barcelona, 117.
Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said the poll body believed that some 60 to 70 percent of the overseas voters would cast their votes by May 10.
“There is really a lot of time for them to vote,” Jimenez said.
The DFA reported on the first Filipinos to vote in its various missions aboard but did not say whom they voted for.
Migrante, an organization of overseas Filipino workers, said that voting went smoothly in many Middle East missions.
“It started well and not so much hassles,” said John Leonard Monterona, a Migrante regional coordinator.
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