Comelec cool to printing of vote receipts

Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The printing of voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) receipts is likely to upset the timetable for the May elections as well as require additional expenses, Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Andres Bautista said yesterday.

The elections chief issued the warning as another senatorial aspirant has asked the Supreme Court to compel the Comelec to activate the VVPAT, or the feature that allows the printing of a paper receipt or record that each voter gets after casting his or her vote.

Bautista said activating such feature could mean another adjustment in the source code of the automated election system (AES).

“If we are directed by SC to print the receipts, we might have to do another trusted build and it will take time. There might be some concerns because of the timing,” he said in a radio interview.

Former senator Richard Gordon, who is making another bid for the Senate, has asked the SC to require the printing of voting receipts.

Former Manila councilor Greco Belgica, who is also running for senator, filed a 16-page petition yesterday asking the high court to issue a writ of mandamus ordering the poll body to activate the VVPAT feature of the vote counting machines (VCM) to be used in the May 9 elections.

In opposing the petitions, the Comelec said making the VCM issue receipts would prolong the voting process at polling booths as well as provide cheating candidates proof of consummated vote buying.

Bautista explained the printing of tape receipts would require more paper, hence the need for another bidding process for the material.

The paper acquired by the Comelec is enough to print election returns from the VCMs in each polling precinct.  

The Comelec has deposited three source codes at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

These are for the election management system or EMS, VCM and consolidation and canvassing system.

For Belgica, the Comelec’s refusal to activate the VVPAT is a violation of Republic Act No. 9369 or the Automated Elections System Law.

“With due respect, Comelec has been unlawfully neglecting its duty to enable the VVPAT, print voting receipts on election day as well as make provision for an on-screen verification of votes and to fully comply with the minimum system capabilities and other safeguards of the AES in order to ensure a transparent and credible elections,” read the petition of Belgica filed through lawyers Glenn Chong and Manuelito Luna.

Petitioner rebutted the poll body’s claims that the use of VVPAT would delay election preparations as it would entail compiling a new trusted build or the firmware used in the final configuration of the machines, final ballot design and data to be used by the AES.

He pointed out that the Comelec compiled the final trusted build last Feb. 8 and 9, but only announced the final decision to disable the VVPAT last Feb. 13.

“If the Comelec were straightforward enough, it should have announced its final decision to disable the VVPAT before making the final trusted build to enable the opposing parties to seek appropriate remedies before the compilation of the final trusted build,” Belgica stressed.

Belgica shared Gordon’s belief that the absence of the VVPAT system, which allows voters to verify if their ballots are processed, could compromise the integrity of the elections just like in the two previous automated polls.

He also warned that the absence of such safeguard could encourage cheating. Last Tuesday, the SC ordered the Comelec to answer Gordon’s petition within five days. – With Edu Punay

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