THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) has junked the use of the voter verification paper audit trail (VVPAT), one of the four minimum security requirements mandated by law, in the May 9 elections.
The seven members of the Comelec en banc were unanimous in the decision to do away with the system that will provide a paper trail during the polls.
Comelec Chairman Juan Andres Bautista made the disclosure on Tuesday during a hearing by the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on Automated Election System and amid calls by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and election watchdos to activate the security feature to ensure the integrity of the coming electoral exercise.
The VVPAT system allows voters to verify if their ballots were cast correctly through the
issuance of a receipt, showing the names of candidates that they voted for.
It serves as a deterrent against election fraud and provides a means to audit stored electronic results.
Voting counting machines have three other security features — digital signature, ballot verification or ultra violet detector and the source code review.
The application of these features is mandated under Republic Act 9369 or the Automated Election Law.
The security features were part of the contract that the Comelec awarded to technology provider Smartmatic Corp., which supplied the 82,000 Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) counting machines that were used during the 2010 and 2013 elections.
The Comelec did not activate the VVPAT during the elections in 2010 and 2013.
Bautista said the voter verification system, if used, may trigger problems that can compromise the results of the elections.
He explained that a printed receipt can be used as a tool for vote-buying or vote-selling.
The Comelec chief noted that the Supreme Court has upheld the poll body on the issue in the Capalla vs. Comelec case.
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said the voting process will be extended by seven hours if the voter verification system is applied.
Jimenez shot down a suggestion of election watchdog Reform Philippines Coalition (RPC) that the printed receipt be dropped into a separate ballot box before a voter goes out of the polling booth.
CBCP president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas earlier called on the Comelec to restore the four major security features that were removed from the vote counting machines in 2010 and 2013.
“The credibility of the elections and the stability of our democracy is at risk if the security and sanctity of the every ballot is compromised,” Villegas said in a pastoral statement.
Election watchdog Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente) also criticized the Comelec’s claim that the activation of the VVPAT would prolong the voting process, saying “what is important in elections is accuracy rather than speed.”
Clean election advocate Glenn Chong has pointed out that the Comelec decision to deactivate the VVPAT feature would render the elections illegal.
“That is a violation of the law. The Comelec is bound to commit the same mistake, similar to what it did in the 2010 and 2013 elections,” he said.
“With the coming 2016 [electoral exercise], its legitimacy, integrity and credibility are again seriously threatened by the very same controversial removal and/or dilution of the AES [automated election system]security features and the very same flagrant violations of our elections laws by those entrusted with their conduct and management,” Chong added.
Lito Averia, IT consultant of the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections, also criticized the Comelec for its decision, saying it denied voters the right to know if the machines read their votes correctly.
With the VVPAT feature disabled, there is no way voters can verify if their votes were really counted.
The VVPAT system is required under Section 6, Paragraph (e) under Minimum System Capabilities of Republic Act 9369.
But Averia said there is another way to ensure transparency and that is by using counting machines with bigger screens.
Instead of printing a receipt containing the names of candidates whom the voters chose, the machines will just display the names on the screen.