Comelec starts VCM reconfiguration

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THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) has started reconfiguration of the 97,500 vote counting machines (VCMs) that would be used in the May 2016 elections to enable them to issue voting receipts as ordered by the Supreme Court (SC).

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Chairman Juan Andres Bautista on Friday said they have allocated some P200 million to cover the additional expenses for the printing of voter receipts.

This amount, he pointed out, was far below the P2 billion that would be spent for a new trusted build or source code.

“Senior Commissioner Christian Robert Lim as [chairman]of the Project Management Office has already ordered yesterday [Thursday] the reconfiguration of the digital security (DS) cards and the resumption of the pre-election logic and actual test (Prelat),” Bautista said.

The reconfiguration, the Comelec chief said, would be finished in seven days.

To be reconfigured are 97,519 SD cards, which correspond to the total number of VCMs.

Said cards contain instructions for activation of the voter verification paper audit trail (VVPAT) capability of the vote counting machines.

The Prelat would ensure that the counting machines would read the ballots correctly. It is being done at the Comelec security warehouse in Santa Rosa, Laguna.

Bautista explained that the P200-million supplemental budget would be used for the overtime pay and retraining of the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs), numbering 300,000, for thermal papers, scissors, receptacles and other additional election paraphernalia.

During Friday’s special en banc session, Bautista disclosed that they discussed all their apprehensions and the accompanying risks brought about by the SC decision.

He explained that the Comelec agreed to purchase 92,500 pairs of scissors, which correspond to the total number of precincts, that would be used by voters to cut their receipts instead of pulling them out out to lessen the chances of a paper jam.

Also to be procured are 92,500 pieces of receptacles or one for each precinct where the voters would deposit their receipts after they have checked their votes.

Bautista said they have agreed to replace the thermal paper before it runs out by placing a red mark at the end to warn the BEIs that it should already be replaced.

The Comelec also needs an additional 92,500 personnel to secure each receipt box.
Under the Comelec’s supplemental general instructions, voters are prohibited from bringing the voting receipts out of the precinct or take photos of them.

Bautista said the bringing out of voting receipts is considered an election offense by the Supreme Court.

Also tackled during the en banc meeting is the duration of the voting process, which the poll body chief said would be longer compared to previous elections as a result of activation of the VCMs, on-screen verification and VVPAT features.Bautista said as much as possible they wanted to finish the voting process before sunset.

“We are studying if we can shorten the 15 second on-screen verification. We cannot remove the online verification because it would necessitate a new source code. So you can only shorten it,” the Comelec chief added.

On the one-month overseas absentee voting (OAV), Bautista said it would also start as scheduled on April 9 but the Special Board of Election Inspectors (SBEIs) assigned abroad would no longer be recalled for retraining.

“We are looking to do instructions on Skype or Webinar for our foreign SBEIs to train them on the process of printing receipts,” he added.

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