The arrival of a fifth ballot printing machine has eased somewhat the Comelec’s ballot printing problems. Let us look more closely at the problem.
To establish the baseline date, check this story “Ballot printing begins after a half-day delay”, which says that the printing of the ballots started on Feb. 8. So our day count starts from Feb. 8.
On March 10, media reported a story “Slow printing of 50M ballots triggers alarm”. The media report cited a confidential internal Comelec memo by Atty. Emerald Ladra of the Comelec printing committee.
Here’s the most interesting portion of that story:
“In an urgent memorandum dated March 1 to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) project management office, Esmeralda Amora-Ladra, head of the poll body’s printing committee, said that the four NPO machines were not operating at maximum capacity.
“The daily output is disappointing, leading her to suggest that the Comelec should prepare contingency measures, including the printing of ballots for manual elections.
“The memorandum, made available to the Inquirer, noted that as of March 1, some 7.9 million ballots for the electronic balloting had been printed. Of the number, 5.3 million were accepted as “good ballots,” while the rest have yet to be checked.
“Granting that 7,878,480 (printed minus quarantined ballots) are all good ballots, we still have to print a total of 42,845,254 for a period of 54 days. This means, we should be able to have a daily production of 793,430,629, more or less, per day from four printers, which is impossible!” the memorandum read.
“Smartmatic-TIM, Comelec’s joint venture partner in the first nationwide automated elections, has leased to the commission four Kodak VersaMark VL 4000 printers, each capable of printing 200,000 ballots.
“Ladra said the printers’ daily output was only 650,000 or 162,500 each. At this capacity, she said only 34.1 million ballots would be printed by April 25, when the Comelec starts to ship out the ballots. There will still be 8.9 million ballots to be printed.”
Atty. Ladra says that the printers’ daily output is 650,000 (see printer photo above). This is probably the maximum possible, if the printers operate with the minimum of maintenance, and they are printing a single print job. But this printing job involves one ballot design for each city and municipality. That’s 1,630 print jobs over some 80 days, or 20 print jobs a day!
Let’s do our own arithmetic: from Feb. 8 to Feb, 28 (the confidential memo is dated March 1) is 20 days. divide 7.9 million by 20, you get 395,000 ballots a day only. At this rate, the remaining 42.1 million ballots will be ready in 108.4 days, counting from March 1. That’s June 16. No wonder Atty. Ladra exclaimed, “impossible!”.
Since it was a confidential internal memo, I believe Atty. Ladra was telling the truth, as far as maximum printing capacity is concerned: 162,500 ballots per day. A fifth printer was ordered by Comelec to take the slack. Based on the same internal memo, this would raise the maximum capacity to 812,500
As early as Feb. 24, the Comelec was quoted saying the fifth printer will arrive “very soon” (Feb. 24 report here). A Mar. 22 report says it could arrive “any time”. A March 25 reports says it has already arrived and was being installed. By March 29, Smartmatic and the Comelec were reporting higher print throughputs. Hence, sometime March 28 or March 29, the fifth printer must have started running, raising the Comelec’s maximum printing capacity to 812,500 ballots per day.
Let us do more quick arithmetic. If the four printers were running at full capacity (650,000 ballots/day) March 1-28, the Comelec would have been able to print, in addition to the 7.9 million reported in the internal memo, 650,000/day x 28 days or 18.2 million for a grand total of 26.1 million. This is in fact, the official claim (see story here). Although the claim is not credible (because we are talking of 1,630 print jobs, not a single job; and even machines have to pause for cleaning and maintenance), we will grant the Comelec the benefit of the doubt.
Since 50.7 million ballots must be printed, how many days more will the five printing machines take to finish the remaining 24.6 million? Assuming that all the five machines run at their maximum capacity everyday, we simply divide 24.6 M by 812,500: 30.3 days. But the Comelec announced that they will pause printing on Good Friday, so let’s make that 31.3 days. That’s April 29, which misses the original April 25 target. It does meet the delayed April 30 target, but at the expense the ballots and counting machine delivery sub-project, whose own time lines will be clipped by a few days.
If this extremely optimistic ballot printing scenario holds out, we can expect the following printing milestones from the Comelec in the coming days. Any major departure from this schedule will have to be scrutinized carefully:
|Mar 28||26,100,000||Apr 08||34,225,000||Apr 19||43,162,500|
|Mar 29||26,912,500||Apr 09||35,037,500||Apr 20||43,975,000|
|Mar 30||27,725,000||Apr 10||35,850,000||Apr 21||44,787,500|
|Mar 31||28,537,500||Apr 11||36,662,500||Apr 22||45,600,000|
|Apr 01||29,350,000||Apr 12||37,475,000||Apr 23||46,412,500|
|Apr 02||Good Friday||Apr 13||38,287,500||Apr 24||47,225,000|
|Apr 03||30,162,500||Apr 14||39,100,000||Apr 25||48,037,500|
|Apr 04||30,975,000||Apr 15||39,912,500||Apr 26||48,850,000|
|Apr 05||31,787,500||Apr 16||40,725,000||Apr 27||49,662,500|
|Apr 06||32,600,000||Apr 17||41,537,500||Apr 28||50,475,000|
|Apr 07||33,412,500||Apr 18||42,350,000|
[The Comelec just announced, according to this report, that printing will continue on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. That they are trying very hard to meet their deadlines is both a good and a bad sign. Here’s a portion of the March 30 report:
In an interview with reporters Tuesday, Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said the printing of the more than 50 million ballots would continue on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
He said stopping production even for a day could lead to a shortfall. The printing is being done at the National Printing Office (NPO) in Quezon City.
He said verification and packing of the ballots would also continue during the two Cahotlic holidays. “If you continue printing but you don’t verify, [there would be a] backlog of unverified ballots,” he said.
The verification of ballots means ensuring that the ballots can be read by the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines, the technology that will be used in the May polls.
Larrazabal said their decision to continue printing during the Holy Week does not mean they are behind schedule. He said they have already printed about 27 million ballots, with only less than five percent spoilage.]
Luck has so far been on the Comelec’s side. (I hope Atty. Ladra’s 162,500 ballots/day per machine estimate made allowance for spoilage!) But it is an extremely tight schedule, with no room for mistake, accident or machine breakdown, not to mention printing quality issues like misalignments, poor quality prints (which, Smartmatic claims, plagued the printing of ultraviolet security marks), and spoilage.
Given the arrival of the fifth machine, we are upgrading our estimate of the chance of success of the ballot printing sub-project from 80% to 90%. This also raises somewhat the overall chances of success of the election automation project from 25% to .8 x .7 x .8 x .7 x .9 or 28%. (See earlier posts for details.)
It is excruciatingly clear, however, that the Comelec’s luck has to hold out, for it to meet its ballot printing deadline. There is wisdom in the Filipino saying, “Ang naglalakad ng matulin, kung matinik ay malalim.” (Haste makes waste.)