Votin’ (and NAMFRELin’) on Election Day

May 13, Election Day, started drizzly though still summery warm. I almost didn’t want to vote, given the dearth (in my opinion) of credible candidates. But being a NAMFREL volunteer prodded me to go out and participate in the electoral process. And so I set off to Fairview Elementary School, where I’m a registered voter.

The road leading to the school entrance was lined with candidate supporters giving out flyers and even sample ballots. I noticed that most of them were women and kids. (I wonder if that’s significant. Cheaper labor, maybe?)

A kid handing out flyers

A kid handing out flyers

Members of the "flyer brigade"

Members of the “flyer brigade”

flyer people 2

A sample ballot being handed out (with the candidates' names shaded)

A sample ballot being handed out (with the candidates’ names shaded)

Past the throng of flyer people, barangay tanods manned specific locations and directed people where to pass.

Barangay tanods at work

Barangay tanods (in orange vests) at work

One tanod stood next to a garbage bag. He encouraged people to throw the just-distributed flyers there to avoid littering the streets. (Elections are such a waste of precious paper!)

An early clean-up attempt

An early clean-up attempt

Inside the school, I was surprised to see so many people already. It was just around 8:05 in the morning. There was a PA system in the PPCRV area announcing names of people. Apparently, people who didn’t know their precinct numbers and where to vote sought help there. They submitted their names and PPCRV volunteers looked them up in their records, then told them which room and building to go to to cast their ballots.

I didn’t know my precinct number, and I thought of lining up there too. But the queue (if there was one) was long and disorderly. Some people in the crowd looked angry and confused, and I didn’t want to join in.

Instead, I found another area where two COMELEC people were stationed. They also helped voters locate their precincts.

The COMELEC help desk

The COMELEC help desk

Two COMELEC members sharing one master list of voters

Two COMELEC members sharing one master list of voters

The queues here were shorter and faster, but still, help was slow because the two COMELEC members shared only one master list of voters. There was an angry elderly voter who said his name was on the master list, but when he went to his designated voting room, his name wasn’t there. What the COMELEC person did was he signed a piece of paper indicating the voter’s name and precinct number; this piece of paper supposedly certified that the voter was indeed in the master list and that he should be allowed to vote. I don’t know if this system worked, but I sure hope it did. The elderly person seemed angry and really intent on exercising his right to suffrage. Bravo to him!

All around the school were signs and posters meant to guide the voters on what to do and where to go.

The list of voters outside each voting room was helpful, but the voter must know which room to go to in the first place

The list of voters outside each voting room was helpful, but the voter must know which room to go to in the first place

Precinct location board:. helpful in finding which school building the precincts are found

Precinct location board indicating the school building where the precincts were

Instructions in Filipino

Instructions in Filipino

Sign outside a room showing precinct numbers. The editor in me cringes every time I see "precinct" spelled incorrectly. It happens so very often.

Sign outside a room showing precinct numbers. I used to cringe every time I saw “precinct” misspelled, but I’ve seen it so often that now I don’t care anymore.

Once I knew my precinct number and its corresponding room, I went there right away. It was on the third floor of the Mathay Building. Usually, one had to stay in a “holding room” first before being allowed into the voting room itself. This happened if many voters were waiting their turn. In my case, I was able to go straight into the voting room because there were only a few voters in my precinct at that time.

Inside a holding room

Inside a crowded holding room

I had to wait for only about five minutes, and then I was given a ballot. I sat down and shaded the proper circles quickly. I only voted for ten candidates out of a total of more than twenty. I checked if the marks I made on one side of the ballot showed on the flip side. They didn’t, which was great.

My ballot was then inserted into the PCOS without any hitch. I noticed that the the number of ballots cast in the PCOS was 92, and after my ballot, it registered 93. There were a few seconds of waiting before the number changed. I asked the technician (who stood near the PCOS and assisted in the insertion of ballot) if I could snap a photo of the ballot count on the PCOS. He said “no,” as I expected. Pictures weren’t supposed to be taken inside the voting room, especially pictures of the ballot itself.

A BEI then placed indelible ink on my left forefinger, and I was done.

Voters' records inside the voting room

Voters’ records inside the voting room

I was fortunate in that I was able to vote quickly. In other rooms, there were long queues, some of them extending outside the holding rooms into the corridors and stairways. I went into another school building and saw even longer lines of voters.

Crowds of voters

Crowds of voters

The queues spilled into stairways and fire exits

The queues spilled out into stairways and fire exits

Some queues extended outside the building, where people had to wait under the heat of the sun

Some queues extended outside the building, where people had to wait under the heat of the sun

I heard this PPCRV volunteer radioing for help in organizing the queues

I heard this PPCRV volunteer radioing for help in organizing the queues

Waiting in line

Waiting in line

Queues everywhere

Queues everywhere

A huge crowd of voters, as early as 9 am. I bet the crowd would get bigger as the day progressed.

A huge crowd of voters, as early as 9 am. I bet the crowd would get bigger as the day progressed.

I went into some rooms and asked if the PCOS machines were working. A school staff said they were, though sometimes the PCOS didn’t “accept” the ballot or was slow. But all they had to do was to turn over the ballot and it would be inserted into the machine without any problem.

I also saw the principal making the rounds. I reintroduced myself as a NAMFREL volunteer, and asked her if they had any problems so far. She said “no, not yet.” It was still early in the day.

The school principal  busily making the rounds

The school principal (wearing white) busily making the rounds

As I left the school at around 9:30 am, I was dismayed at the sight of street litter from campaign flyers. This was so early in the day; I’m sure it would get much worse by the end of the voting period.

Street litter and litterers

Street litter and litterers

When I got home, I did a little experiment to test the “indelibility” of the ink on my forefinger. I cleaned up using nail polish remover. Some of the ink was removed, but not all.

Before and after cleaning out the "indelible" ink

Before and after cleaning out the “indelible” ink

And that ended the voting part of the day for me. Later on, after 5 pm, NAMFREL volunteers like me would observe the random manual audit as our final task.

I hope everything goes well 🙂

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Volunteering for NAMFREL: Day 1

(NAMFREL is an independent poll-watch body composed mostly of volunteers. I was a volunteer in 2010 (?), and again this year for the May 13 elections. I was tasked to observe the delivery of PCOS machines today at a school in Fairview, and here’s what happened.)

It’s another hot, lazy Saturday, and when I woke up at close to 9 am, my first thought was not wanting to leave the air-conditioned comfort of our bedroom, ever. I turned on my phone and saw a message that convinced me that was my first wrong move of the day. Our NAMFREL coordinator, Francis, had texted, asking could I please go to North Fairview Elementary School today at 8 am and observe the PCOS delivery there. My sleepy brain suddenly registered the time. 8 am? But it’s past nine already. Heck, I had to get up and get going, fast!

I made sure I had with me my NAMFREL ID, my smart phone (for texting updates and taking photos), and my SLR camera (for taking more, and hopefully better, photos). Breakfast was not an option, as I was very late already. But I did put some crackers and water in my already stuffed handbag.

I headed straight to Fairview Elementary School (FES), which wasn’t too far from where I lived. I voted here before, so I was familiar with the place. I noticed that like yesterday and every day this summer, it’s warm, warm, warm outside. I was glad I had an umbrella, a hand fan and some water. Yup, I’m a regular girl scout!

At the school entrance was a poster with the PCOS delivery schedule. It said that the machines were supposed to be delivered any time between 8 am and 5 pm, so that gave me some leeway. Our coordinator, Francis, had also texted to correct the 8-am time he had mentioned earlier.

School entrance with schedule of PCOS delivery

School entrance with schedule of PCOS delivery

A teacher coming in late like myself 🙂

Inside the school, at around 9:50 am, some thirty teachers or so were already waiting for the delivery. The principal wasn’t there yet. I introduced myself to the teachers, and sat waiting with them. They said they had been there since 8 am. One teacher worried that the PCOS might be delivered late, but hopefully today, not tomorrow. Apparently, in the previous election, they had a very late next-day delivery of the PCOS machines.

Teachers at Fairview Elementary School waiting for PCOS delivery (9:50 am)

Teachers at Fairview Elementary School waiting for PCOS delivery (9:50 am)

After a while, I thought it might be a good idea to check out the action in nearby North Fairview Elementary School (NFES). Maybe they had better luck there and their PCOS machines had arrived. It wouldn’t hurt to see. Besides, waiting here was tedious.

NFES is just about ten minutes from FES. When I got there, I immediately saw that the PCOS machines had indeed been delivered. They were lying on the floor, and the Air 21 delivery man and a school official were conferring in front of what seemed to be delivery documents.

PCOS machines delivered at North Fairview Elementary School (10:15 am)

PCOS machines delivered at North Fairview Elementary School (10:15 am)

Air 21 delivery person and school official receiving the PCOS machines

Air 21 delivery person and school official receiving the PCOS machines

I learned that eleven PCOS machines were delivered, and that there too were eleven clustered precincts in the school. I asked if there was a twelfth extra PCOS in case one of the others malfunctioned. The school official said there wasn’t. This made me frown a bit, because Francis had told me that there was supposed to be one reserve PCOS per school. The school official was Ms. Eden Mercado Salamera. I hadn’t ascertained if she was the school principal, but she did seem to be the person in charge. She was busy with the delivery documents, and I didn’t want to bother her too much, although she was very accommodating naman. She said it would have been nice if I had been there earlier to witness the unloading of the PCOS machines. I asked the delivery man, and he said their next stop was Fairview Elementary School, where I had been waiting earlier. I thought, “Great! I can be there and watch the whole shebang, from unloading to turnover!”

With that in mind, I quickly snapped a few photos at NFES and almost ran back to FES. I didn’t want to miss the arrival of the vans there. When I got to FES, I was panting and sweating. Of course, the teachers were still there, and they were glad to hear that the PCOS had been delivered in nearby NFES. That meant they didn’t have to wait much longer.

Unfortunately, it took more than an hour before the Air 21 vans arrived. Right smack when the teachers were having their lunch at around 12:03 pm, the vans and their police escorts came in at FES. There were two vans and two police cars. The vans were carrying eight PCOS machines each, which made for a total of 16 PCOS, equal to the number of clustered precincts in the school. Again, there wasn’t a reserve PCOS. The principal at FES, Ms. Eugenia Cristobal, was in fact startled at the idea of having an extra PCOS machine. I guessed she thought it might pave the way for election cheating, and I could see how that might be possible.

Air 21 vans at Fairview Elementary School

Air 21 vans at Fairview Elementary School

The delivery vans had police escorts

With the arrival of the vans, the delivery man (who was the same person who delivered the PCOS at NFES) sat down with the police officers and looked at delivery documents. There seemed to be a lot of paperwork. They checked serial numbers and precinct numbers. The two had to match exactly.

Air 21 delivery man and police officers checking delivery documents

Air 21 delivery man and police officers checking delivery documents

There was a few moments of waiting before the unloading could commence. The principal still wasn’t there, and she was called by one of the teachers to come as soon as possible.

Police escorts, while waiting for the principal to arrive

Police escorts, while waiting for the principal to arrive

When Ms. Cristobal arrived, she welcomed everyone, including the three PPCRV volunteers who had also come. She was very accommodating and eager to show how things were done under her leadership.

They first inspected the seals on the van doors. In each van, there were three seals in place.

School principal checking seals on the vans

School principal checking seals on the vans

Seal on van door

Seal on van door

Another seal on van door

Afterwards, the vans were opened one at a time. This was how the inside looked.

Inside the van upon opening of the doors

Inside the van upon opening of the doors

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Next came the unloading of the PCOS machines.

Unloading of PCOS machines

Unloading of PCOS machines

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All in all, there were 16 PCOS machines in sealed white boxes, 16 black boxes and their covers (sometimes referred to as “garbage bags”), and 16 power supplies. The principal and delivery persons checked whether the precinct numbers on the PCOS machines matched exactly. Also printed on the PCOS were serial numbers that had to match with what was on the delivery documents.

Labels on the PCOS machine: serial number, precinct number, school location, and other identifiers

Labels on the PCOS machine: serial number, precinct number, school location, and other identifiers

Principal and Air 21 personnel checking delivery documents

Principal and Air 21 personnel checking delivery documents

When everything had been unloaded, the principal called each precinct chairperson (who was a teacher in the school), and turned over to her a particular PCOS machine. As mentioned, every PCOS corresponded to one particular precinct, and there couldn’t be any mismatching. This was another tedious process. Each chairperson had to check her PCOS paraphernalia, present her ID to the Air 21 personnel, check the delivery documents and sign them. After the paperwork, she then took her PCOS machine and deposited it in the school library, which was the designated storage place for all the voting machines. As there were 16 PCOS machines, 16 people had to do all these individually, and it took some time.

Turnover of individual PCOS machine to each precinct chairman

Turnover of individual PCOS machine to each precinct chairman

Moving the PCOS machine into the school library

Moving the PCOS machine into the school library

Four PCOS stored in the library.

Four PCOS stored in the library.

Even though the Air 21 delivery guy had what seemed to be high-tech equipment, the turnover took a long time. He painstakingly checked against many documents, wrote down the names of the receiving persons, checked their IDs, and so on.

Delivery document signing during turnover to school precinct chairman

Delivery document signing during turnover to school precinct chairman

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I couldn’t stay to watch the entire process, but I think I saw enough. Everything seemed to be done correctly, and in an organized although lengthy manner. I thanked the principal for accommodating me, and said goodbye to the PPCRV volunteers who said we should work together.

As I was leaving the school, a heavy downpour had started. It was about 1:40 pm already, and I had missed lunch (in addition to breakfast). But I left with a satisfied feeling, glad that I had helped in some way, no matter how minute and perhaps inconsequential to the grand scheme of things.