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Vote receipts may postpone polls

Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) - March 9, 2016 - 9:00am

STA. ROSA, Laguna, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is looking at a possible postponement of the May 9 polls following the Supreme Court order to print vote receipts.

With only two months remaining before the elections, the printing of vote receipts will entail many complications, Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said yesterday.

Bautista said the risks of committing a mistake are higher when things are rushed, so the proposal to delay the elections is an option they are looking at.

“But that requires a law. Under Section 4 Article 7 of our Constitution, unless otherwise provided by law, regular elections shall be held on the second Monday of May,” he said.

Bautista, however, clarified this is not a priority of the Comelec. 

“What we want to study now is what is the impact on our timeline, considering that 60 days are left before the elections… This is not only a legal issue, but also practical, technical and op-erational issues,” he said.

The SC on Tuesday allowed the petition of senatorial candidate Richard Gordon requiring the Comelec to print voter receipts showing the names of candidates a voter has shaded in the ballot.

The receipts are to be deposited in a separate box so they could not be used for vote buying, which the Comelec had feared could happen if it were required to print receipts.

Bautista pointed out the printing of a voter receipt could add 10 hours more of voting time since the process will take one minute in a clustered precinct that has 600 voters.

Bautista said the requirement would mean extending voting by 10 hours, or from 7 a.m. on May 9 to 5 a.m. the following day.

This is aside from the Comelec having to purchase 13 rolls of thermal paper for each of the 92,500 vote counting machines and the receptacles where the printed receipts will be stored.

Bautista added all of this would require the holding of public bidding that could take at least two months.

Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal said the SC decision requiring the printing of a voter receipt might force the Comelec to postpone the May 9 vote.

He said postponement is possible “to give the Comelec ample time to configure the vote counting machines (VCMs) to include the feature of issuing receipts.”

Macalintal said Comelec has already shipped some VCMs abroad for the overseas absentee voting.

“These machines are not configured to print receipts,” he said.

Macalintal said the SC should have retained its previous ruling that the required paper audit trail should be considered complied with when the voter fills out his ballot.

“It appears that even the SC does not trust the VCMs, previously called precinct optical count scan or PCOS machines,” he said.

Implications

The Comelec yesterday met with Smartmatic International, as well as other members of the Project Management Office, in its warehouse in Sta, Rosa, Laguna to discuss the effects of the SC ruling on their preparations.

“We are looking at what are the things we can do to enforce this directive of the SC. We want to know specifically what would be the consequences or implications if a voter receipt printing is implemented,” Bautista said.

Bautista said the poll body has agreed to file a motion for reconsideration (MR) while evaluating the possible effects of the ruling on the election timetable.

“Our current direction is that we will file an MR… What we actually want is a chance for us to demonstrate our machines to the SC so that they can see for themselves how it operates and its features… that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages of printing the receipts,” he said.

By showing to the SC justices why Comelec does not want vote receipts, Bautista said they are hoping to convince the magistrates to reconsider.

The poll body earlier warned the SC that printing receipts would mean extending the voting time.

The Comelec had offered to show to a voter on the VCM the names of the candidates he voted for as a compromise to the printing of receipts.

Lawmakers opposed the idea of Bautista to extend the voting period to two days.

“I think it’s a recipe for chaos and possible cheating. It will be the first time we will have an overnight voting if this plan pushes through,” Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III said.

Albano said he does not think that voters would accept overnight voting.

He said those who want to disrupt the balloting would do their illegal activities under cover of night.

Albano urged the Comelec to think of ways to expedite the voting process and to do it only on May 9, even if voting time is extended.

He noted that in the past, voting was done from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“We can start it earlier, say at 6 a.m. and finish it at 7 p.m. That means an extension of three hours,” Albano added.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III said the Comelec should just revert to the original plan to have the voting period from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. instead of 7 a.m. to 5 a.m. the following day.

Pimentel also urged the Comelec to avoid using alibis to delay the election process.

“You will not use lack of time as the reason, restore those two hours that you cut,” he said.

If the Comelec is left with no choice but to abide by the SC ruling, Pimentel said the poll body should file an MR while at the same time, starting preparations to comply with the ruling.

“Even if the MR is still pending, they should start bidding for additional paper. They should do that at once. They should not sleep on the issue while the Motion for Reconsideration is pending. They should assume that the decision will not be reversed,” he said.

Pimentel also advised the Comelec not to make an issue that there would be no extra ballot boxes to accommodate the printed vote receipts.

“The receipt is not the official count. It will not affect the official count. It is just for the benefit of the voter to know his vote,” he said.

Meanwhile, the camp of Sen. Grace Poe slammed reports that the elections might be postponed due to issues on the printing of vote receipts.

“We believe that mentioning ‘postpone’ and ‘elections’ in the same breath is unacceptable,” Poe’s spokesman, Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian said.

“Comelec should not even consider the possibility of holding the elections on a later date as this will damage our democracy, confuse the electorate and tarnish the integrity of the elections,” he added.

“The printing of receipts should not be a deal breaker to begin with because when the contract for the PCOS machines was bidded out this feature was part of it, it was inherent. This safeguard is a built in feature, so clearly it can be reactiviated easily the same way it was so easy for Comelec to deactivate it,” Gatchalian said. – Jess Diaz, Christina Mendez

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