Automated polls travel by land, sea, carabao


By Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:43:00 08/03/2008

BY HORSE, CARABAO AND BANCA.

This is how the Commission on Elections plans to transport the state-of-the-art, touch-screen voting machines to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) for the elections next week.

Officials of Smartmatic-Sahi Technologies Inc. and Avante International Technology Inc. said setting up the automated voting and counting machines in the country’s most underdeveloped region would be a big logistical challenge.

Some villages and towns are so remote, the companies’ technicians literally have to cross fields and seas to bring the machines and ballots to ARMM’s 1.5 million voters in time for the country’s first-ever automated elections on Aug. 11.

“We have to be creative and innovative in transporting the machines and in retrieving them after the elections,” said Vince Dizon, Smartmatic-Sahi spokesperson, in a recent interview.

Dizon said the company, which would provide the Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) system in Maguindanao and transmit the results from the canvassing areas to the Comelec headquarters, had already made transportation arrangements with local officials to ensure the safe arrival of machines in the province and that communication systems would be in place.

Bad roads

In the town of South Upi, Maguindanao, for instance, Dizon said they were looking at transporting the touch-screen machines by horse or carabao because there are no paved roads leading to the school where the voting will take place.

“From the main municipal hall to the barangay, where some of the schools are located, it sometimes takes two hours of travel. The problem is the roads are so bad that even 4 x 4 vehicles have difficulty reaching the area,” he said.

Other options included loading them on motorcycles or habal-habal in some areas and hiring locals to haul the machines on foot, Dizon said.

“Another problem is the Liguasan Marsh in the easternmost part of the province. Since it’s a marshland, the waters rise fast. So we are using bancas,” he said.

Dizon also said the company was scheduled to take a ferry to Turtle Islands off the coast of Tawi-Tawi to install the communication lines and the canvassing machines in the counting center there.

Tawi-Tawi town closer to Malaysia

Smartmatic-Sahi will deploy around 2,300 DRE machines to Maguindanao for the elections. Another 1,000 machines will be shipped to the area as backup.

Leo Querubin, Avante’s project director, said their technicians were scheduled to go to Mapun Island, Tawi-Tawi, last Friday to set up the precinct.

He said the town would be their biggest challenge since it is 18 hours away from Zamboanga City and is closer to Malaysia than to the Philippines.

Avante will supply the specially printed ballots that residents of Lanao del Sur, Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, Basilan and Shariff Kabunsuan will use on Aug. 11.

The ballots would be fed into the Optical Reader Mark machines that would record the votes and transmit the results to the counting centers.

Avante president Kevin Chung said transporting and setting up their counting machines would be relatively easy because they would be placed in accessible towns with telephone lines or Internet connections.

“We have five provinces and some of the places are remote. But the fact is, the counting station is different from the voting stations. The precincts may be very remote, but the counting centers are in schools with reasonable infrastructure,” Chung explained.

Officials of the two companies said the machines could withstand the rigors of bumpy travel and would arrive in their destinations in one piece.

When they sent the machines to South Upi for a trial run, Dizon said the machines held up well and they were able to do a full diagnostic.

Dizon said the DRE machines would be encased in hard plastic and packed tight, so the contents would not shift even if the case were dropped.

Chung, on the other hand, made assurances that the integrity of the ballots would be maintained when they reach the voting stations.

He said each ballot would have a unique and long alpha-numeric security code that would be difficult to decipher.

Chung noted that the OMR would automatically recognize and void a fake ballot.

The Comelec and the two private companies will start moving the election paraphernalia to ARMM by Monday, despite talks of postponing the elections by lawmakers.

Some machines had been sent to the region last week.

95 percent ready

The remaining automated counting and voting machines will be fielded tomorrow and the last deployment will be on Aug. 6 while the sealing of the automated election system will be on Aug. 8, said Comelec executive director Jose Tolentino.

“So basically, we are more or less 95-98 percent ready for Aug. 11,” he noted.

Tolentino also said security arrangements for the historic poll were in place.

Security

“In fact the AFP Western Mindanao Command will deploy 5,545 personnel, while the Eastern Mindanao Command, 5,700. The PNP has likewise committed 7,596 personnel,” he said.

Tolentino added that the Comelec, the military and the police had identified 278 election areas of immediate concern and 703 election areas of concern for the ARMM elections.

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My Take:

Corruption makes a person stupid, or appear stupid for the sake of more cashflows going in their pocket.

Why not travel via air?  It would be easier and it would be less expensive?

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