Computers and human errors delay vote counting

Monday, September 21, 2009
Issue 824, Page 1 & 3
Word count: 644
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

The 123 candidates, reporters and residents were all anxiously waiting for the initial election result last night, but due to technical and human errors until 3am staff were still counting the nearly 149,000 ballots.

The fourth direct legislative election was held from 9am to 9pm yesterday.

President of the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) Fong Man Chong in a press conference at midnight last night said the EAC originally estimated that the final number of total votes cast would be available in an hour after all the 28 polling stations closed.

Also, in the notes given to media before Sunday, the Government Information Bureau said the initial election result would be out at around 11.30pm.

Mr Fong attributed the major delays to the computer failure and human errors in six of the polling stations, which had to repeatedly count the number of votes inside the polling boxes as “staff might forget to press ‘enter’ in the computer before giving voters the ballot papers”.

This year was the first time computer systems were used at polling stations to verify voters’ identities. A voter had to first inject their Macau identity card into a socket attached to a computer, if it showed that he had gone to the correct polling station, the staff would press “enter” in order to record that he had come to vote, and finally gave him the ballot paper kept in a box.

In addition, computer breakdown was reported in the early period of the election in four polling stations, namely Luso-Chinese Vocational School, College Dom Bosco (Yuet Wah), Patane Fong Chong School and Salesians Institute.

In College Dom Bosco (Yuet Wah) and Salesians Institute, the polling stations even had to shut down for 10 to 15 minutes.

President of the Legislative Assembly Susana Chou was affected by the second time computer malfunction in Salesians Institute, which caused her around extra 30 minutes in order to cast her vote.

Mr Fong said the computer failure did cause inconvenience to voters, but he could not be sure whether some of them would give up voting eventually.

“If a voter is determined to exercise his civil rights, I think he is willing to come back to the polling station to vote at a later time,” he said.

Numbered tickets were given to those affected voters, which enabled them to vote immediately without lining up again upon their return, Mr Fong said.

As of December 31, 2008 there were 248,708 citizens registered to vote in yesterday’s direct legislative election.

It showed an increase of 13.25 percent, when compared to 220,653 registered votes in the 2005 election.

In regard to voter turnout, in the 2001 election it was at 52.34 percent, whilst in 2005 there were some 128,830 voters having cast their ballots, representing 58.39 percent of the eligible voters.

However, in both 2001 and 2005, the polling stations all closed at 8pm, an hour earlier than yesterday’s election.

As at 7pm last night, the EAC reported that 131,425 voters cast the ballots, a figure already beyond the total number of votes in 2005.

Since the EAC was still counting the votes at 3am, the exact number of votes cast this year could not yet be confirmed. But at 3am the EAC website showed that 148,991 voters had cast their ballots, representing a turnout of 59.9 percent.

The EAC president admitted that the vote counting process and the computer/human errors would be one of the things that needed to be reviewed.

Yet, he said the overall order during the voting process was maintained.

On the other hand, Mr Fong said around 20 complaints were received yesterday, such as a group of people wearing the same colour of t-shirts outside the polling stations.

In regard to alleged electoral corruption complaints, he said the EAC would pass on such kind of cases to the Commission Against Corruption to investigate.


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