THE use of new ballot boxes in next year’s national polls has sparked fears that the May 2016 electoral exercise may be marred by fraud.
The multi-sectoral election watchdog Reform Philippines Coalition, through its spokesman Glenn Chong, over the weekend questioned the acquisition of the new ballot boxes, saying the old ones could still serve the purpose.
It said the purchase of such boxes by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) was not only a waste of people’s money but highly questionable because 82,000 ballot boxes are in the commission’s inventory at present.
The poll body will not only use 97,519 brand-new vote counting machines (VCMs) in the 2016 elections but also a corresponding number of new ballot boxes, raising suspicions of a “scam” in the making.
“The big question is what happened to the 82,000 old black ballot boxes that clearly did not require to be repaired and upgraded to be interoperable with the new VCMs? Why do we have to purchase an entire new set of ballot boxes when the old ones are still fit for use?” Chong told The Manila Times.
At best, he pointed out, the Comelec should have purchased no more than 12,000 additional ballot boxes because 82,000 of the same are already available.
“In short, the Comelec purchased close to 80,000 more ballot boxes than what is necessarily required, wasting over P200 million in public money. Now, this is another scam in the making,” Chong said.
The ballot boxes and the VCMs are being supplied by election technology provider Smartmatic-TIM Corp.
One ballot box costs P3,000, which means that the Comelec will be paying P292.557 million for 97,519 pieces.
The poll body, meanwhile, will shell out P10 billion for the VCMs.
Comelec Commissioner Christian Robert Lim explained that one of the reasons why they purchased the new ballot boxes was that some of the old ballot boxes still contain official ballots from the previous election and these could not be used because they were subject of electoral protests.
Lim said the new ballot boxes have a compartment for invalid or fake ballots.
He added that the new ballot box design was meant to enhance security measures against electoral fraud.
“Kasi yung machine ngayon, pag yung ballot peke, papasok pa rin pero sa ibang compartment [The new machine will accept the ballot even if it is fake but it will be stored in the other compartment],” Lim also told The Manila Times.
“All the ballots would be accounted for. It would come out in the statistical report, the total number of ballots inserted, how many were invalid and how many were valid,” he said.
Lim admitted that the old ballot boxes can still be used but the problem is these do not have a compartment for the invalid or fake ballots.
He said the new ballot boxes were so designed that they are slightly elevated so that the ballot, according to him, is inserted straight into them.
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez explained that just like printing of official ballots, which is one ballot per registered voter, the same ratio is also followed in the purchase of the VCMs and the new ballot boxes.
According to Jimenez, it is necessary to stick with the one-is-to-one rule to avoid allegations of poll irregularities.
“There is no surplus. Like in the ballot, if you have extra ballots, it would raise fears of possible cheating. How much more if you have extra ballot boxes? They would suspect that it is stuffed with ballots for switching, they would say there is fraud,” he said.
The Comelec spokesman confirmed Lim’s statement that the new ballot boxes have a compartment for invalid or fake ballots.