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July 14, 2016

Rule on ballot replacements alarms PPCRV

MANILA, Philippines – Election watchdog Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) has expressed alarm over the new policy of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) allowing replacement of ballots for voters in the May 9 elections.
 
PPCRV chair Henrietta de Villa said the Comelec’s move to allow ballot replacement under its Resolution No. 10088 could jeopardize the orderly conduct of elections and lead to the disenfranchisement of voters and shortage of ballots.
 
“We are not in favor of having ballot replacement because it will be difficult to implement. There could be confusion in the replacement of ballots,” De Villa said.
 
She believes the new rule, which was included in the supplemental General Instructions for the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs), could result in a shortage of ballots, considering that the Comelec printed only one ballot per voter.
 
“We know this is the specific number of voters for an exact number of ballots. But what will happen if many need to be replaced? What will happen to other voters who will come later in the day? Where will we get the ballots for them? That’s disenfranchisement,” she warned.
 
De Villa stressed the PPCRV also does not agree with the policy of the poll body to leave to the BEIs to decide who is at fault for the rejected ballots.
 
“If there will be ballot replacement, who will decide who was at fault? They said it’s the BEI. But do they have instructions on where they will base their decision on who is at fault?” she pointed out.
 
De Villa said they have formally submitted to the poll body their reservations on the new rule.
 
According to Comelec resolution, “there will be no replacement ballot that shall be issued to a voter, whose ballot is rejected by the vote counting machine (VCM), except if the rejection of the ballot is not due to the fault of the voter.”
 
Under the supplemental General Instructions to BEIs of the Comelec, in case of ballot rejection, the BEI shall allow the voter to re-feed the ballot four times in four different orientations.
 
If all four tries fail, the voter shall return the ballot to the BEI and be given a new one.
 
Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista earlier said the decision on whether a voter should be given a replacement ballot and how many times this will be allowed could be left to the BEIs to decide.
 
De Villa said PPCRV, being the accredited citizens’ arm of the Comelec in charge of fielding poll watchers in precincts as well as in voter education and information activities, is concerned about the possible repercussions of this rule.
 
“We man the voters’ assistance desks so we need to be able to answer questions that are referred to us,” she lamented.
 
De Villa said they are hopeful the Comelec will just follow the practice in the past two automated elections in 2010 and 2013.
 
De Villa also urged the Comelec to issue another resolution to clarify the grounds that can be used by the BEIs in making a decision on replacement ballots.
 
For instance, the Comelec must specify how many times a voter can avail himself of replacement ballots.
 
“There must be an en-banc resolution explaining how this will be implemented... or better yet, completely junk it,” she added.  
 
On standby
 
Comelec, on the other hand, said it will have 4,888 VCMs on standby should any of the 92,509 VCMs in voting precincts nationwide fail on election day.
 
Unlike in the 2013 elections, all clustered precincts nationwide will have VCMs for the May 9 polls, Comelec public relations manager Cristalyn Magsino said.
 
Miguel Eugenio Avila, pre-sales coordinator of Smartmatic, said none of some 72,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines used in the 2010 and 2013 polls would be used.
 
The PCOS machines, which Comelec initially leased and later bought for the last two polls reportedly at the cost of P15 billion, have remained in a Comelec-designated warehouse. Magsino said a total of 97,517 VCMs were leased for the coming polls.
 
Apart from the 4,888 units on standby, a total of 92,517 units are to be used for local voting and another 120 units for overseas voting.
 
“We expect voters’ turnout to be heavier in this elections because of better accessibility for seniors and persons with disability,” Magsino said.
 
Magsino cited the move of the Comelec to use shopping malls as voting centers, to accommodate the disabled, and some 6,936,642 senior citizen voters.
 
Meanwhile, technology provider Smartmatic International gave assurance that results of the May 9 elections would be transmitted 100 percent a day after the polls.
 
Smartmatic project head Marlon Garcia said the transmission test they conducted indicated that they can achieve a 100-percent transmission of results.
 
“Definitely on May 9 at the end of the day we are expecting a high transmission percentage. My personal guess is that it is going to be around 80-percent transmission on May 9 and by noon of May 10 we should already be almost done,” Garcia said.
 
He said a 100 percent transmission is likely even if some of the polling centers are from far-flung areas and the canvassing may take a while in others.
 
According to Garcia, they are very satisfied with the results of the transmission test they conducted as they recorded 100-percent transmission from all the VCMs.
 
He said transmission test was conducted not only to check on the canvassing system, but also to integrate with the different telecommunication companies in the elections.
 
Garcia said the transmission test was similar to a small simulation of what the election is going to be like on May 9.
 
“We are able to test absolutely everything that we are going to be seeing on election day,” he said.
 
“The test has proven that the platform we are going to use on election day is ready. We are ready to go on May 9.”
 
Power supply woes
 
A lawmaker urged large power users, such as malls, factories and office residential towers, to use their backup generators to avert possible blackouts on election day.
 
Liquefied Petroleum Gas Marketers’ Association party-list Rep. Arnel Ty said the Department of Energy (DOE) should ask “large users to self-generate their electricity needs and stay off the grid on election day just to guarantee uninterrupted power supply in voting precincts throughout Luzon.”
 
“It seems that extreme heat is the unpredictable factor in the power supply-demand equation. As the heat index rises, there’s really no telling how great the demand will be for cooling this summer,” Ty said.
 
He pointed out that on several days this April, Luzon was on the verge of having power outages, as peak demand surged to record highs at around 9,700 megawatts (MWs), while a number of power plants were on maintenance shutdown or under repair.
 
While May 9 is a public holiday, demand for electricity is expected to pick up as more people either stay either at home or in malls after they have cast their vote, Ty said.
 
“Based on the reserve generator sets registered with the Energy Regulatory Commission, the private sector has more than 3,000 MWs of standby self-generating capacity,” he said.
 
The DOE adopted the Interruptible Load Program (ILP) to help address Luzon’s power deficit in the summer of 2015, when there was a risk of blackouts happening one hour per day every week over 16 weeks from March to July due to a 700-MW supply shortfall.
 
Under the ILP, the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) or the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) may ask participating establishments to disconnect from the grid and run their emergency generators once the power supply falls short of demand.
 
The ILP helps provide consumers, such as households and others without any self-generating capacity, with adequate electricity despite supply deficiencies. – With Paolo Romero, Mayen Jaymalin, Ding Cervantes
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