Ballots can’t replace voting receipts – SC

MANILA, Philippines – Requiring the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to issue voting receipts, the Supreme Court (SC) said paper ballots cannot replace voting receipts as the poll body often asserts.

In a 16-page resolution released on Wednesday afternoon, March 9, the SC said the law “is clear” about the required Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) in the automated election system.

The VVPAT is a way to audit votes through a paper trail.

The SC said the VVPAT requires the following:

“There appears to be no room for further interpretation of a ‘voter verified paper audit trail.’ The paper audit trail cannot be considered the physical ballot, because there may be instances where the machine may translate the ballot differently, or the voter inadvertently spoils his or her ballot,” the SC said. 

The SC decision was penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, former law dean of the University of the Philippines, who worked for rural and indigenous communities before joining the SC. 

The SC voted 14-0 on Tuesday, March 8, to require the Comelec to issue the voting receipts. 

This ruling thrust the Comelec into a state of emergency that requires it to overhaul months-long processes in just 60 days. These include reconfiguring more than 92,500 SD memory cards and bidding out an additional 1.2 million rolls of thermal paper.

Given this situation, the Comelec said it might have to postpone the elections or revert to manual polls. 

SC: Comelec can still stop vote-buying

Earlier, the Comelec voted 7-0 against issuing voting receipts, citing fears that the receipts could be used in vote-buying. 

The SC, however, said in its resolution, “The Commission on Elections cannot opt to breach the requirements of the law to assuage its fears regarding the VVPAT.”

“Vote buying can be averted by placing proper procedures. The Commission on Elections has the power to choose the appropriate procedure in order to enforce the VVPAT requirement under the law, and balance it with the constitutional mandate to secure the secrecy and sanctity of the ballot,” the High Court said.

The SC said, “We see no reason why voters should be denied the opportunity to read the voter's receipt after casting his or her ballot.”

“There is no legal prohibition for the Commission on Elections to require that after the voter reads and verifies the receipt, he or she is to leave it in a separate box, not take it out of the precinct,” the High Court explained.

Definitely, the availability of all the voters' receipts will make random manual audits more accurate,” it added.

Comelec late in filing comment

The Comelec, for its part, said it is set to appeal this SC ruling.

The poll body earlier told the SC that paper ballots already serve the purpose of voting receipts.

In a comment filed way past the deadline, the Comelec said, “The paper ballot, manually filled out and personally fed into the VCM, is the best evidence of the votes cast.”

The Comelec added that the paper ballot “already satisfies” the minimum standards for a VVPAT.

The Comelec said the paper ballot, in fact, “is also the VVPAT (emphasis theirs) since it ‘faithfully captures or represents the votes cast by a voter recorded or to be recorded in electronic form.’”

The Comelec submitted this comment to the SC only on Monday, March 7, when the High Court set the deadline last week. The SC on February 23 required the Comelec to submit a comment 5 days upon the receipt of an official notice. The Comelec requested for an extension but the SC denied it.

The SC ended up hitting the Comelec for missing the deadline on a matter of “extreme urgency.” (READ: SC slams 'lackadaisical' Comelec over voting receipts– 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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