Former senator and now senatorial candidate Richard Gordon is doing our people a service in suing the Commission on Elections (Comelec) before the Supreme Court, in order to compel the poll body to restore and implement an important security feature of the automated election law for the May elections.
The issue is basic because it strikes at the heart of the sanctity of the ballot. It is also urgent because the elections are only two months away.
The former senator filed suit because he said the Comelec violated the Automated Elections System Law (Republic Act 9369) twice in the past, and now it is preparing to violate it again in the May elections.
Gordon knows whereof he speaks and complains, because he was the principal author of the law while serving in the Senate.
He can also claim to being victimized by the Comelec’s flouting of the law, first as a candidate for president in the 2010 elections , and second as a candidate for senator in the 2013 midterm elections.
It’s not right to dismiss his complaint as just the lament of an unhappy loser. The grounds for Gordon ‘s suit are compelling.
The Comelec has decided not to to activate the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) feature of the automated election system in the May 2016 balloting.
The VWPAT is one of several security features required under the Automated Elections System Law, which Gordon, and other authors of the law and election watchdogs consider vital for the conduct of credible automated elections in the country.
When it decided not to activate the VVPAT security feature, the poll body cited as its reason the possibility that it could be used as a tool for vote-buying.
It also declared that this security feature would prolong the voting period by seven hours.
The vote-buying scare is not a valid concern. The voters can be made to leave the precinct without the receipts by making them drop these into a special box. The seven-hour delay may be valid but it does not render the VVPAT unnecessary– for the security, correctness and transparency of the precinct-voting process are paramount.
This security feature allows voters to verify if their ballots were cast correctly through the issuance of a receipt. The receipt shows the names of the candidates they have chosen.
Some groups believe that the feature would also serve as a deterrent to election fraud and provide a means to audit stored electronic results.
Gordon is correct to warn that the credibility of the May elections will suffer if the Comelec is allowed to have its way.
We in the Times believe that this is an issue worthy of a ruling by the High Court.
The right of suffrage and the sanctity of the ballot are fundamental to our constitutional democracy. If impaired by laxity in the rules and poor implementation, this essential rampart of our democracy will be compromised.
Dick Gordon is not alone in railing against the Comelec’s decision to dispense with the voter’s receipt and paper trail. A group of bishops, former military and police officials, and IT and AES (automated-election-system) experts have also expressed their intent to file a petition asking the High Court to compel the Comelec to use the VVPAT.
Their collective concern was best expressed by one concerned voter who said, “the VVPAT is the only way we are assured that our votes are counted. It is our way of verifying if the canvassing is correct.”
No petition of citizens is more worthy to be heard, or more meritorious of being granted.