The issue of the VVPAT or the voter verified paper audit trail was once again raised in the hearing conducted by the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Election System (JCOC-AES) last February 16, 2016.
Because the PCOS is not transparent – the voter does not see how the machine reads his votes, the voter does not see how his votes are recorded, the voter does not see his votes counted, and the voter does not see how the election returns are prepared – the next best thing is to implement transparency features which are prescribed in the law anyway. The Election Automation Law, Republic Act No. 8436 as amended by Republic Act No. 9369, prescribes a set of Minimum System Capabilities. The law lists fifteen (15) functional capabilities, two of which are the VVPAT and “a system of verification to find out whether or not the machine has registered his [the voter’s]choice.”
The VVPAT feature is available in the PCOS used in the 2010 and 2013 elections but was turned off. The two transparency features, the VVPAT and displaying the voter’s choices on the PCOS screen, are present in the new model of the PCOS that will be used in the 2016 elections. But Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista informed the JCOC-AES that the poll body has decided not to turn on the VVPAT feature and it has yet to decide whether the voter’s choices will be displayed on the PCOS display screen or not.
Chairman Bautista cites the following reasons:
1. The VVPAT can be used for vote buying
2. Regardless of the contents of the VVPAT, supporters of a losing candidate might hold the line
3. The issuance of the VVPAT will cause a long cue of voters as some voters might take a long time reading their VVPATs before they take action
4. The VVPAT might not reflect the voter’s choices as marked on the ballot.
Mr. Ramon Casiple of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms adds that the VVPAT is not a foolproof measure. He says that while the VVPAT may reflect the voter’s choices as marked on the ballot, the PCOS can be programmed to record votes differently.
The first three reasons raised by the Comelec are not insurmountable. Comelec can, as suggested by Atty. Glenn Chong, prescribe a standard room layout so that the flow of voters can be controlled and observed. Comelec can also prescribe procedures on how to handle the VVPAT and have the voter fold it so as to protect the secrecy of his votes before he drops it into a separate box. As additional measure, the paper on which the VVPAT will be printed can have a visible security mark so that even if the paper is folded, it can be easily recognized by the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) or watchers.
The trickier issue is if the VVPAT does not accurately reflect the voter’s choices as marked on the ballot. BEIs are instructed not to provide a replacement ballot. The only thing that the voter can do is to make sure that the BEI records the matter in the minutes of the voting.
As to deliberately holding the line and vote buying, aren’t these election offenses? Comelec, can emphasize this in its voter education programs. Comelec can also place a signage in the voting precinct reminding voters of these election offenses.
Comelec also says that it will take the PCOS thirteen seconds to print the VVPAT. If there are eight hundred voters assigned to a clustered precinct and the voter turnout on election day is eighty percent, the total time for all VVPATs to be printed is two hours and nineteen minutes. If a voter takes 30 seconds to check the VVPAT, using the same number of voters and voter turnout rate, the total time to check all VVPATs is five hours and twenty minutes. These time measurements add up to seven hours and thirty nine minutes. Polls open at 7am and is schedule to close at 5pm, without lunch break. That’s a period of ten hours. There is time to spare. But, of course, realistically, as Filipinos are wont to do, voters are expected to go to the voting precinct close to closing of polls. Comelec has dealt with this situation in the past.
Comelec’s reasoning that the VVPAT might not reflect the voter’s choices marked on the ballot is an expression of doubt. Mr.Casiple similarly doubts the PCOS when he said that the VVPAT is not foolproof and the PCOS can be programmed to record votes differently from those printed on the VVPAT. If there is doubt on the PCOS, why insist on using it?
Let’s face IT. Not printing the VVPAT deprives voters the right to know if the machine correctly registered their choices or not.