We need to talk about the technology in the midterms.

When unexplained ‘glitches’ disenfranchise millions, the security and integrity of our democracy is threatened.

Chia Amisola
7 min readMay 15, 2019


A technician handles a malfunctioning vote counting machine

The 2019 midterms saw an unprecedented amount of irregularities that have yet to be explained. Outside all the propaganda and illegal campaigning, technical errors have disenfranchised near a million voting Filipinos and deluded the promise of public transparency. This has completely shifted the landscape of a critical election.

For the past few days, the nation has been calling out against the innumerable counts of malfunctioning vote counting machines (VCMs), pre-shaded ballots, incorrect voting receipts. Perhaps these issues are to be expected. But to start, the 2019 Philippine midterms saw a 220% increase in cases of malfunctions than in the previous 2016 election.

This year, 1,665 SD cards that would contain vote data needed to be replaced in contrast to 2016’s 120 during the election period, with hundreds of them corrupted on the day of the election. The Comelec had attributed many canvassing errors to the defective cards, sourced from Silicon Valley. No, not the technology hub — but the cheap tech shop akin to CDR-King that can be found at your local Filipino mall. This saved the Comelec a whopping 57 million in expenses in exchange for widespread malfunctions.
The DepEd monitoring system reported a total of 1,333 malfunctioning VCMs throughout this year’s polls. It may seem negligible out of the 85,000 VCMs across the nation, but that affects approximately 400,000–600,000 of the voting population — enough to turn the tide for many key races. This is also in contrast to the 2010 (205 VCMs), 2013 (161 VCMs), and 2016 (150 VCMs) elections.

This problem lies beyond party lines and beliefs. It’s about the ridiculous callousness of the Comelec and their empty (or at worst, senseless) explanations.

Even the Binays were affected by malfunctioning machines in Makati, where former vice president Jejomar Binay had his ballot rejected after 8 attempts.

But it doesn’t end there. The biggest change this year was the long-delayed provision of the public quickcount of results upon the start of canvassing the election returns (ERs) from precincts around the country, and across the world. The Comelec provides Transparency and Media servers to accredited groups, where many large media outlets, watchdog groups, and political parties would be relayed the results files in periodic updates every ten to fifteen minutes. This is crucial in analyzing voting trends as more precincts report their results; as well as for general transparency and clarity throughout the initial counting.

At 18:15PHT on election day, the Comelec transparency server released partial unofficial results showing 0.38% of votes at the national level. It did not update for the next eight hours.

While outlets and groups were unable to see the progression of results (much debugging’ occurred between the Comelec and Smartmatic), the Comelec’s official website had already reported 95.43% of election returns received by 10:29PM. No update had been made on the transparency servers yet, with the Comelec reporting a 0.38% transmission rate for over eight hours. Throughout all this, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez attempted to reassure the public that there was no tampering or manipulation of votes — the only issue was the generation of the results file that would be delivered by USB to the groups. But this is exactly something that we’re unable to tell if not given access to the transparency server.

At about 11:36PM of May 13th, Jimenez told the public that results could be expected by 04:00AM.

Operation Quick Count in Precinct 245 at Brgy. San Jose in Mandaluyong City, in front of Filemon P. Javier. via https://twitter.com/chaalba/status/1127937872923729925
via https://twitter.com/iammercedesm/status/1127976237723340804

In these hours, we witnessed manual vote counting (performed as Operation “Quick Count” across numerous precincts) as precincts scrambled to report data when VCMs malfunctioned. Areas with power malfunctions instructed their voters to just leave their ballots with them in a box, such as in Moises Salvador Elementary School Precinct 2151A in Manila to Rizal. Watchers in precincts across the country resorted to typing up partial unofficial vote counts to share across social media.

Finally, around 1AM on May 14th, the transparency server began working again — an eight hour delay from the first transmission of 0.38% of election returns. The returns had jumped up to 92.01% between the delay.

They might as well have asked the public to close their eyes for the night and announce results the next day.

A non-partisan poll-watching group with over 500,000 members, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) raised questions about the election transparency server. Ultimately, they declared that there were no major discrepancies between the transparency server and the election returns — noting only small discrepancies.

Despite this, the PPCRV still raised a key question: what caused the error with the transparency server in the first place? What glitch was severe enough to cause such a long delay that had essentially taken the public’s ability to see the quickcount live as returns had turned in?

Time-vote count of results from a Rappler timelapse, with a dip at 6:19AM on May 14 caused by a “Java error”that had rolled back the results displayed on the server via https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/iq/230597-time-lapse-leading-senators-results-transmission-may-2019
Developh’s initial statement

We’re making a call to action. The unexplained amount of technical errors from defective vote counting machines, SD cards, server errors, and unchecked tampering mean that this election has been manipulated with for far too long. At the very least, the public demands transparency, error logs, and a clearcut explanation of the all the irregularities that had occurred during election period. Furthermore, the Comelec needs to do a much better job at responding to these incidents thoroughly in an era of such rampant vote manipulation.

Developh’s Initial Statement
May 13’s elections were filled with unprecedented amounts of errors, delays, and outright acts to remove transparency and intimidate the voting population. #Halalan2019

We are more than a technology organization. We’re a group representing the young, representing voters and future voters affected by the deceit and malignance that has been going on over the past few days. We demand action, response, and accountability; RELEASE ERROR LOGS, EXPLAIN IRREGULARITIES. Everything is political, and your poor technology affects the nation.

The increasing attempts to move towards an automated election are clearly failing. The count of disenfranchised voters is shocking. The disingenuous treatment of irregularities on all parts — from the ground to the server room — has such severe implications for the voters of this nation, whether their candidates of choice currently top the polls or not.

In a time where our democracy is challenged, it’s more necessary than ever for the public to be given the right to question, be informed, and be given proper explanation for the votes that decide our country’s future. There is no denying that this year’s midterms handled technical errors appallingly. It’s disgusting to write off huge transmission errors as “Java errors” — as if I were taking some Introduction to Programming 101 class, or reading a shitty and condescending StackOverflow response. The public deserves more than half-assed error explanations that treat us like we’re negligible.

The failure of these systems is inexcusable. This is the fate of the country.

This is not the first time that technology has been such an avid threat. Social networks like Facebook are manipulating democracies and being weaponized to spread black propaganda. The way we treat and consume information has become more dangerous than ever with disinformation growing rampant; manipulating conversations on the internet are key to any political campaign. Lack of public knowledge on how networks and communications work has led to public belief over things as ridiculous as the Manila Times-published “ouster matrix” that indicated an IP address with a subnet mask of 266. It only goes to 255. The matrix which implicates several journalism groups with an abundance of literal “links” in each connecting line was published by Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo to the Malacañang Press Corps.

But this time, it’s not just propaganda or fearmongering — maybe those are things we just have to live with. But this, this is the one day where the nation collectively votes and speaks out. Politicians, watchdog groups, and the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections are all airing out these extremely valid concerns. At this point, we know that we can’t even trust this last exercise of democracy.

What do we do now when technology seals the demise of a nation?

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Iboto.ph will also be staying up post-midterm as a response to the growing call for progressive organizations. You may join us here.