Metro Manila, Philippines — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) said additional preparations for the May 2022 polls should prevent a repeat of the controversial “seven-hour glitch” in the May 2019 polls which left the vote tally for media partners empty on the night hours after polls closed.

New Commissioner George Garcia said a separate server has been added to the existing automated elections system (AES) for media to access the running total of votes canvassed by Comelec.

“Nangyari ‘yung glitch sa tinatawag na transparency server natin. ‘Yan talaga ay sinigurado ngayon ng komisyon at ako mismo ay sinigurado ko rin na hindi na mangyayari ‘yan [The glitch happened in what we call the transparency server. The commission made sure, and I myself made sure, it won’t happen again],” Garcia said during an end-to-end AES demonstration at the Diamond Hotel in Manila on Tuesday.

He is referring to the glitch on the night of the May 13, 2019 polls which saw a long interruption in the sending of canvassed votes from Comelec’s transparency server to the digital stream provided for media companies. The glitch disrupted real-time news updates on broadcast, print, and online.

Garcia said they have required AES supplier Smartmatic to provide a separate media server for this year’s elections to address what he described as a congested electronic platform in the previous election.

End-to-end trial

On Tuesday, Comelec reported a clean run of the AES demo in a full setup before poll watchdogs, representatives of political parties and media. The system was tested from filling out test ballots, feeding to vote counting machines (VCMs), transmission, and canvassing.

Four machines out of over 106,000 VCMs were deployed for the dry run, which were meant for select towns in Cagayan and Iloilo.

An electoral board member started the VCM and printed an initialization report, which read zero votes –– meaning there is no pre-loaded voting tally in the machine.

Using Comelec’s official marking pen, test voters were tasked to fill out sample electronic ballot which spans up to 30 inches. Voters are reminded not to make unnecessary marks and not to crumple the paper as it could lead to spoiled votes.

After accomplishing both sides of the ballot – the front for national and local candidates and the back for party-list groups – a voter must then feed it to the VCM. After feeding the ballot, a receipt or voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) will come out summarizing who they voted for.

A voter is not allowed to bring home this receipt, which must be surrendered to an electoral board member before leaving the precinct. CNN Philippines was able to participate and saw that the VVPAT record matched the contents of the ballot cast.

The machines allow undervotes but will not count overvotes –– for example, two shaded circles for president.

Election returns were printed and vote transmission was swift using local area network cables. This is different from voting day transmission, which uses portable routers and SIM cards to send data to the boards of canvassers.

For the exercise, the tandem of “Angelina Jolie” and “Stephen Curry” won as president and vice president.

Garcia admitted the dry run went well under ideal conditions, but may not be as smooth on the ground on May 9.

Swift canvassing

Comelec Commissioner Marlon Casquejo, who heads the steering committee for all election preparations, said he is confident of a quick nationwide canvassing.

“We are expecting for the national, 7 days hopefully makapag-proclaim na tayo ng mga [we can already proclaim the] winning senators and party-list,” he told reporters.

Casquejo noted that in 2019, some municipalities were able to complete canvassing in less than four hours since voting ended and proclaimed local winners at 10 p.m. the same day. He clarified, however, that canvassing for the presidential and vice-presidential races will depend on Congress, which will sit as the national board of canvassers.

Casquejo added that the end-to-end AES demonstration should allay fears and doubts about the integrity of the polls.

“‘Yung sinasabi nilang breach [the breach they were talking about], it has nothing to do with the process of our elections this coming May 9,” Casquejo added, saying there’s no way for hackers to insert different voting results to VCMs and transmitted data.