2022 mock polls generally smooth but ballot paper jams, voter crowding flagged

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 29)— Wednesday's conduct of the 2022 mock elections went "smooth and peaceful," the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and its partner watchdogs said. However, ballot paper jams, social distancing protocols, and transmission of results encountered some issues.

Voting opened at exactly 7 a.m. at the lone precinct inside the Padre Zamora Elementary School in Pasay City — with early voters showing up and completing the process in 5 to 10 minutes.

Health protocols were enforced, including temperature checks at the gate, disinfection of hands and election materials, and physical distancing.

If COVID-19 symptoms are detected, the test voter will be led to an isolated polling place set up by the entrance of the campus.

While the mock election was successful, NAMFREL (National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections) said its observers noted that "the enforcement of certain health protocols has not been consistent, namely physical distancing, proper wearing of masks, disinfection of hands, and disinfection of election materials like pens and chairs after every use."

"In a polling place in Taguig, crowding has been observed around the VCM while voters insert their ballots. In the same polling place, lack of vote secrecy was also observed in the vote casting process as the ballots were not covered while being inserted into the VCM, allowing the people around to see the votes," NAMFREL added.

The Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE) also noted that holding areas became crowded at the Pasay West High School — breaking its own rule of five voters at a time inside a room.

Comelec tested a three-room setup: the first room is a holding area for voters, ballots are filled out in the second room — with only 10 people allowed at a time. The ballots then are fed to the vote counting machine (VCM) stationed in the third room.

A more accessible polling place was also set up for persons with disabilities, pregnant women, and senior citizens.

Ideally, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said the voting should only take five minutes.

However, in Negros Oriental, members of the electoral board had to trim ballots so they would fit into the voting machine. Jimenez explained the sheets were exposed to rainy then sunny weather, which led the paper material to "expand."

He said trimming the ballots is a "known contingency" measure, which must be done in the presence of witnesses to ensure this is correctly done.

LENTE also reported paper jams encountered in voting machines in Isabela and Albay.

Voter turnout was better than expected. In the test precinct in Pateros, polls closed at noon after exceeding the target number of 100 participants.

In Pasay, the polls closed at 5 p.m. The Pasay City Board of Canvassers convened for the testing of the automated transmission and canvassing systems, with the process completed an hour later.

There was an initial discrepancy regarding voter turnout as the initial canvassing report showed 786 people voted — a far cry from the 390 actual ballots cast. This was eventually corrected.

"We've already hit upon the template we want and the mock elections now is to see how that performs under real world conditions. It's a sharpening process," Jimenez told reporters in a briefing. He added that observations from the mock voting will be used to "fine-tune" election day protocols.

The May 9 polls will be the first to be held in the middle of the pandemic.

Comelec has required all voters to wear face masks and face shields — a rule which may change as the national government already lifted the face shield mandate in areas under relaxed COVID-19 restrictions.