The Commission on Elections (Comelec) had set out a project plan which enumerates activities to be undertaken with corresponding deadlines necessary for the preparation of the automated election system (AES) that will be used for the 2016 National and Local Elections.
Among these activities is the printing of ballots which was supposed to start in January 2016. The final list of voters and the final list of candidates aspiring for national and local elective posts are required for the preparation of the ballots.
The final list of voters is necessary so that the Comelec can determine the number of vote counting machines (VCM), erstwhile known as precinct count optical scan (PCOS), which will be deployed nationwide. The voters list is also used as basis for determining the number of ballots that will be used in each voting precinct.
The Comelec also sought to complete and finalize the list of candidates for the 2016 elections with deadline set last December 2015. The Comelec had weeded out what it deemed to be nuisance candidates and resolved disqualification cases filed before it.
The complete and finalized list of candidates aspiring for various national and local positions is necessary in order for the Comelec to design the ballot faces, start printing the ballots, and finalize the configuration of the VCM and the machines that will be used with the canvassing and consolidation system (CCS).
The most prominent disqualification case filed before the Comelec challenged the candidacy of Senator Grace Poe who is aspiring for the presidency. Last December 23, 2015, the Comelec en banc ordered the cancellation of Sen. Poe’s Certificate of Candidacy based on citizenship issues and on her failure to meet the constitutional requirement of a 10-year residency for presidential aspirants.
Sen. Poe filed petitions for the review of Comelec en banc’s decisions with the Supreme Court and was able to secure a temporary restraining order stopping the Comelec from implementing its decisions. Oral arguments for Sen. Poe’s petition was set for yesterday January 19, 2016.
The Comelec has, in the meantime, retained Sen. Poe’s name on the list of candidates and put on hold designing and printing the ballots. The Comelec cannot also produce the final configuration of the VCM and CCS machines.The Comelec will have to determine the absolute datesfor these activities to start and plan for contingencies.
A final decision by the Supreme Court coming before the absolute date will not further complicate subsequent Comelec activities. A dismissal would simply mean the removal of Sen. Poe’s name from the list of presidential aspirants. On the other hand, Sen. Poe’s name will be retained on said list if the Supreme Court decides in her favor. The Comelec can then proceed with designing the ballot and start printing the same.
A final decision upholding Sen. Poe’s candidacy after the absolute date will only mean that Comelec can complete the printing of the ballots with her name on them, assuming her name has been retained on the list of presidential aspirants.
A final decision by the Supreme Court disqualifying Sen. Poe from the presidential race after the absolute date, however, will require the Comelec to have the VCM and the CCS machine configuration changed or apply changes to VCM and CCS programs since Sen. Poe’s name will appear on the ballots.
Leaving the VCM and CCS configuration and programs unchanged will mean that vote marks for Sen. Poe will be counted, consolidated, and printed.
The printing of any vote count result and any consolidation result for Sen. Poe will have to be suppressed. No one would want to see the vote count results for a disqualified candidate specially if that candidate lands on the top spot in any electoral contest!
Print suppression is not a simple case of configuration change. It will require changes to the VCM and CCS program. A program modification in any of the AES programs would require a review of the program source code to ensure that other parts of the programs are not affected. The corresponding executable code will then have to be regenerated. But a source code not reviewed would mean non-compliance with the requirement of the Automated Election Law.
Let’s face IT. Unresolved disqualification cases negatively impact AES project schedules and the VCM and CCS configuration and programs. The Comelec has to set out a plan that will resolve technical implications in the event that the Supreme Court’s final decision disqualifying Senator Poe comes after the absolute date set by the Comelec to start designing and printing the ballots. It is reminiscent of the CF card recall in 2010. But this time it is not only a case of ballot configuration change but a modification of the VCM and CCS programs that will be required.