Comelec admits 'gamble' in verification of votes

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Friday, March 4, admitted the risks it took when it approved a feature allowing Filipinos to verify their votes on the screens of vote-counting machines (VCMs).

The downside includes extending the voting period by at least two hours and 30 minutes, based on Comelec estimates.

The on-screen verification feature could also be used to aid vote buying, the poll body said.

“I must admit that there is a bit of a gamble in this regard,” Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said in a news conference on Friday.

“But I think that there is also a higher purpose that we’re trying to achieve, which is to provide more comfort to the voter that his or her vote is being counted properly,” Bautista said.

He added, “We decided to err on the side of transparency.”

Election watchdog group Lente, for its part, hailed the Comelec on Friday for this move. “Thank you, Comelec, for listening to the calls for added transparency,” Lente said.

This comes as the Comelec approved the on-screen verification feature to ensure transparency in the May 9 elections. 

To allow voters to verify their votes, the VCMs will display votes on the monitor for 15 seconds per voter. 

If, in the process, the voter finds out a mistake in the way the ballot was shaded, he or she can press an “X” button so that the VCM would eject the ballot.

The voter can then correct his or her ballot, which the Comelec will not replace. 

The catch is, he or she can correct the ballot only in the voting area, where the voter has to fall in line again. 

“He cannot correct his ballot in front of the machine or while monopolizing the machine. As you can see, that can cause a lot of delay,” Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said. 

Comelec ready to extend voting period

The Comelec outlined other risks in a resolution released on Friday.

Explaining how the new feature could facilitate vote-buying, the poll body said other people might “attempt to know how a person has voted by peeking, surreptitiously or otherwise, at the on-screen display while the voter is examining it.”

The Comelec also said there might be “objections” to the contents of the on-screen display, “whether arising from innocent mistakes or deliberate attempts to undermine the credibility and orderliness of the electoral process.” 

The poll body said these objections “will inevitably cause longer queues and waiting times” in polling places.

Still, the poll body said, “after weighing the risks and benefits in the use of the on-screen verification functionality, the Commission on Elections has decided to err on the side of transparency notwithstanding these attendant risks.”

Bautista said one of the remedies is to extend the voting period, if needed.

What the Comelec didn’t allow was the issuance of voting receipts. (READ: EXPLAINER: Why it's alright not to have voting receipts)

The poll body said politicians can use the receipts in vote-buying, and issuing receipts can add 5 to 7 hours to the voting time in election precincts.

Senatorial candidate Richard Gordon and his political party, Bagumbayan, earlier requested the Supreme Court (SC) to order the Comelec to issue voting receipts. 

This petition against the Comelec remains pending before the SC. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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