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Comelec junks hybrid poll option for full automation

The Commission on Elections has decided to junk the so-called hybrid system of manual balloting and partial automation for the May 9, 2016 polls. File photo

MANILA, Philippines - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has decided to junk the so-called hybrid system of manual balloting and partial automation in favor of a fully automated process for the May 9, 2016 polls.

Comelec officials led by Chairman Andres Bautista yesterday informed the House of Representatives committee on suffrage and electoral reforms of their decision during a hearing on preparations for next year’s elections.

He said they made the decision after holding a mock manual-partially automated balloting last June 27 in Bacoor, Cavite, where they discovered the defects of the hybrid system being pushed by election watchdogs.

“It is costly and it is slow,” he said.

He said aside from Comelec officials, members of the suffrage committee led by chairman Rep. Fredenil Castro of Capiz and representatives of election watchdogs and political parties observed the mock election.

He added that the Comelec is now left with two automation options: refurbish its 80,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines and lease an additional 23,000 units, or lease all counting/voting machines it needs.

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Responding to questions from Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo, Bautista said the slight delay in election preparations won’t affect the period for the filing of certificates of candidacy (COC).

“It will still be on Oct. 12 to 16 this year,” he said.

Comelec Commissioner Robert Christian Lim told the Castro committee that the poll body decided to junk the hybrid system “because it will cost more, it will require an amendment of existing election laws or enactment of new ones, and it is time consuming, taxing and prone to human error and other irregularities.”

He said the combination of manual balloting and partial automation would cost “between P36.8 billion and P39.7 billion,” while the fully automated process used in 2010 and 2013 would entail a maximum of P20.5 billion.

“The hybrid system has no basis in law and would require Congress to amend the automation law or enact new legislation,” he said.

“It is prone to irregularities. It provides opportunities for tampering of ballots. It is slow,” he said.

Lim added that during the mock election at the Bacoor National High School, it took two hours just to count 25 ballots and only votes for president, vice president and senators were counted.

He pointed out that the other votes that needed to be canvassed after two hours were more than those that had been tallied.

These were those for congressmen, party-list groups and provincial and local officials, he said.

He said transmission was by short messaging service or text through mobile phones.

“We are against the use of this technology because of its vulnerabilities like hacking and denial of service,” he said.

He said the hybrid system demonstrated by proponent-election watchdog groups did not have a feature for consolidation of votes.

He added that improving the software for the hybrid system would take at least one year.

Castro, who witnessed the conduct of the mock election with other House colleagues, said he shares the findings, observations and the decision made by the Comelec.

However, he gave credit to citizen groups monitoring election preparations for pushing for a locally developed balloting system.

Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. of Dasmariñas City in Cavite said he supports the decision of the Comelec to go for full automation.

“A fully automated process is the preference of our voters, as could be gleaned from the recent survey of radio station Veritas,” he said.

Because of the survey result, he said the Parish-Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, a Church-based election watchdog, is supporting full automation.

Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice, a vice chairman of the suffrage committee, chided proponents of the hybrid system led by former Comelec commissioner Gus Lagman for presenting a “defective” proposal.

“It took you more than a year to come up with this, and now it is palpak. This is completely a waste of time,” he said.

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