Critics’ wishes met only halfway

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PARTLY GRANTED James Jimenez, spokesman for the Commission on Elections (Comelec), shows a sample ballot, explaining its role in the voting process in the May 2016 elections. During a program at Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila on Monday, Jimenez also  introduced the vote counting machines or VCMs that will be used in this year’s polls. To the dismay of election watchdogs, the Comelec said it will restore only three of the four security features of the machines. PHOTO BY ABBY PALMONES

PARTLY GRANTED James Jimenez, spokesman for the Commission on Elections (Comelec), shows a sample ballot, explaining its role in the voting process in the May 2016 elections. During a program at Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila on Monday, Jimenez also introduced the vote counting machines or VCMs that will be used in this year’s polls. To the dismay of election watchdogs, the Comelec said it will restore only three of the four security features of the machines. PHOTO BY ABBY PALMONES

THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) is amenable to demands of election watchdogs to restore built-in security features of the new vote counting machines (VCMs) that would ensure clean and honest elections except for the voter verification paper audit trail (VVPAT) system.

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The VVPAT system is designed to allow voters to verify that their votes were cast correctly through issuance of a receipt, showing the names of candidates that they had chosen.

It serves as a deterrent against possible election fraud and would provide a means to audit stored electronic results.

The three other security features of the VCM are the digital signature, ballot verification or ultra violet detector and the source code review.

These features are mandated by Republic Act (RA) 939 or the Automated Elections Law and was part and parcel of the contract that Comelec awarded to controversial technology provider Smartmatic Corp. for the supply of 82,000 PCOS (Precinct Count Optical Scan) machines that were used during the 2010 and 2013 polls.

On Monday, Comelec Chairman Juan Andres Bautista showcased in the presence of representatives of various groups the capability and all the features of the voting machines but said they were still weighing advantages and disadvantages of activating the VVPAT system.

“All those features are there but there is a question on the printing of receipt. We are consulting,” Bautista added.

According to him, the Comelec would come out with a decision on the VVPAT issue pending studies on the advantages and disadvantages of the security feature.

Bautista explained that the voter verification system, if activated, may lead to a lot of problems that can compromise results of the May 2016 elections because a printed receipt can be used as a tool for vote-buying and vote-selling and would also result in considerable delay in the election process.

Rona Ann Caritos, executive director of the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente) proposed that for checks and balances purposes, the Comelec may just enable the VCM monitor so that the voter can see how the machine appreciated his vote.

“Just enable the monitor, never mind the printing of receipt. What is important is we see how the machine appreciates our votes,” Caritos said even as she agreed that there is really a possibility that the receipt can be used in vote-buying because it can serve as evidence if the voter would sell his vote.

She added that what is important in elections is accuracy rather than speed.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez pointed out that an additional 7.1 hours would be added to the whole voting process if the voter verification system is applied.

Jimenez explained that a minimum of 30 seconds for each of the 600 voters or an additional 5 hours to the process if onscreen verification would be used, and 13 second for printouts or another 2.1 hours or a total of 7.1 hours.

He shot down suggestions that the receipt be dropped instead in a separate ballot box before a voter goes out of the precinct, saying it would expose the tape to other voters, in the process violating the secrecy rule.

“We have no problem with the three security features but the Comelec has so many apprehensions on the VVPAT. There are different opinions, some are in favor while others are not. We better study it first,” Jimenez said.

Lito Averia of the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) said that as a matter of compliance with the law, it does not matter if the Comelec would adopt the onscreen verification or issue a receipt but suggested that for purposes of auditing the votes, there should be a receipt.

“Remember the keyword in VVPAT. The keyword there is audit. In the event that you audit the machine, you have something to get back to which is the VVPAT. It is printed rather than just display,” he added.

On apprehensions that the receipt would be used in vote-buying, Averia explained that it is only a matter of procedure.

“Remember when the BEI [Board of Election Inspectors] put indelible ink on your finger? That’s at the end of the process in the voting precinct. Similarly the collection of VVPAT receipt can be done at that point,” he said.

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