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SC ruling on ballot receipts surprises poll execs

By: - Reporter / @santostinaINQ
/ 01:18 AM March 09, 2016

WITH BARELY two months before Election Day, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Tuesday said its preparations would be affected by the Supreme Court decision ordering it to issue ballot receipts to voters.

The court decision prompted the poll body to call for an emergency meeting today to reassess its preparations for the May 9 elections.

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“Make no mistake about it, this decision will have a material impact on our preparations for the conduct of the automated elections, a mere 62 days away,” Comelec Chair Andres Bautista said in a hastily called press briefing on Tuesday.

“It bears emphasizing that when we made the decision to enable the on-screen verification as opposed to printing the receipt, we were making this not just in consideration of legal issues, but also the practical, the operational and technical concerns that one needs to consider when managing an elections,” he added.

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Bautista was joined by five of the six other members of the commission, which unanimously voted against issuing the receipt, during the press briefing Tuesday.

Commissioner Rowena Guanzon, the lone member who was absent, was overseeing training for use of vote-counting machines, which the poll body noted would have to be held back.

Caught by surprise

The Comelec said the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision caught it by surprise considering that it had thoroughly explained the practical, technical and operational concerns in printing the voter receipts.

“I think we will appreciate it if we were given the opportunity to orally argue the case before the SC so that they are made aware of the practical and the operational difficulties in managing an election,” Bautista said.

Asked whether the proximity of Election Day would force the Comelec to consider reverting to manual elections, Comelec Commissioner Christian Robert Lim said the poll body was not ruling it out.

“We are considering all angles (including manual elections),” said Lim, who heads the Comelec Steering Committee for the 2016 elections.

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Commissioner Arthur Lim also expressed disappointment over the court decision, saying he cannot understand why the high court would come out with such a decision overturning an administrative decision of a constitutional body.

“Even an ordinary government agency not created by the Constitution, the SC cannot meddle with what they are doing as an administrative agency as long as it is supported by substantial evidence since they have the expertise. How much more for the Comelec, which is a constitutional body specializing in election matters and in charge of running the elections,” Arthur Lim said.

Lim, the head of the Comelec’s Office for Overseas Voting, said he was especially concerned with the fate of the monthlong overseas absentee voting (OAV), which would start on April 9.

“The effect of this on the overseas voting will be to unduly and oppressedly constrict the timeline considering that, under the law, voting period for overseas will already start on April 9,” Arthur Lim said.

Commissioner Christian Lim noted that the Comelec had already concluded the configuration of the secure digital (SD) cards and the deployment of vote counting machines to be used in the OAV.

Training

He also said the Comelec could be forced to compress the training of board of election inspectors (BEIs) members for the OAV, which could result in having a half-baked orientation of those who will man the voting centers abroad.

“Maybe the biggest problem right now is the overseas voting because they will start voting on April 9,” Christian Lim said.

Asked about the possibility of filing a motion for reconsideration in the Supreme Court, Bautista said it was one of the options the poll body would look into.

He said that today’s emergency meeting at the Comelec warehouse in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, would involve the entire Project Management Office as well as the service provider, Smartmatic International.

He said the meeting would primarily tackle the operational repercussions of the court decision for them to enable the voter receipt printing feature of the vote-counting machines (VCMs).

Among the things the Comelec will have to evaluate is the need to reconfigure more than 92,500 SD cards since these are already configured not to produce a voting receipt, but only to allow on-screen verification.

Bautista said the Comelec would also have to retrain the more than 277,000 public school teachers, who will be serving as BEI members on Election Day, despite already being “halfway done.”

He also said the poll body would have to amend the general instructions for BEIs as the current one did not contain any provisions on the production, use and final disposition of the voting receipt.

Bautista pointed that the poll body would have to bid out additional thermal paper stocks, more than 1 million rolls, for all polling precincts nationwide and abroad.

Bautista said the Comelec would also have to bid out the procurement of more than 92,500 voter receipt receptacles, where voters will place the receipts before leaving the polling precinct.

“We also plan to revisit our deployment plans … We were expecting to deploy supplies starting next week, but we now have to push back our timetables,” Bautista said.

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