And then it began to rain

by Matt Lang

I was part of a team that went to Surigao del Norte in northeastern Mindanao.  This area is rich in resources and is one of the last regions in the country that hasn’t been completely deforested or strip-mined.  Yet.  There is a sizeable indigenous population who, like indigenous people everywhere, struggle to maintain even a bit of control over their land and way of life.  The land, it should be said, is stunning. 

Voters lined up in Mat-i for Web Around mid-day we heard reports of voting machine malfunctions in Mat-i on the outskirts of Surigao City.  Some of us hoped in a jeep, some in a car.  The ride: the valley, shaped into rice paddies, stretches on either side of the rode, the mountains that frame the picture, the tallest with cloud-covered peaks.  There is a water buffalo, there is another.  On the back of that water buffalo is an egret.  Nipa huts are well spaced and set back from the road a few dozen feet.  An old farmer, who spends his days tending land he does not own, is squatting in the shade of a palm tree, taking a break from the heat of the day.  There is sadness and beauty.  The scene is complete.
In Mat-i we found long lines caused by the voting machine malfunctions.  The machines were rejecting the ballots for no discernable reason.  This was the first election in which these machines – owned by a Venezuelan company called Smartmatic and leased by the Commission on Elections – were used to count the votes, and many civil society groups warned that they had not been tested properly, that there would be malfunctions.  There were malfunctions, not only in Mat-i, but across the country.  Every team in the People’s International Observer Mission reported malfunctions.
A technician arrived to examine a machine.  He concluded, without opening the machine, after hardly looking at the machine, that the problem was people were pressing too hard when they filled in the circles next to the name of the chosen candidate.  Therefore, he said, the machines could not read the ballots correctly. 
And how can you be sure that it was the hard pressing that caused the problem? I asked.
Because the ballot is being rejected, he said. 
Yes, I agreed, the ballot is being rejected, but you didn’t really do any tests on the machine.  How do you know it is the hard pressing? 
Because the ballot is being rejected, he said. 
And so it went for several minutes.  The machine was never fixed.  The teachers who were working the precinct said they would collect all the rejected ballots and try to feed them through later.  We went back outside and saw that the lines had grown to 300, 400, maybe 500 feet.  They were long and not moving.  And then it began to rain.
Matt Lang, Presbyterian pastor in Chicago, served as n election observer with the People's International Observers Mission.

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