Delays in the release of the P11.3 billion supplemental budget for the automation of the 2010 national elections could affect the electoral exercise next year, the Commission on Elections on Tuesday.
In a hearing before the Senate, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said delays in the budget's release may affect Comelec's procurement of automation equipment as well as the poll body's programs for voter education.
The Comelec earlier said it is eyeing the use of both optical mark reader (OMR) and direct recording electronic (DRE) machines for the automation of the 2010 national elections.
Jimenez said a technical advisory council recommended the OMR system over DRE. OMR allows voters to vote using a paper ballot, which is then counted by machines while DRE only allows voters to vote using a touch screen or touch pad.
He said DRE technology could also be used in a limited capacity during the elections.
Ramon Casiple, chairman of the Consortium on Electoral Reforms, said the OMR would be harder to tamper and manipulate since the Precinct Count Optical Scanning function would allow the machine to take a picture of the ballot.
He also said the OMR would have both digital and hard copies of the ballots, which could be used for a recount in the case of electoral protests.
Sen. Richard Gordon said he hopes the Comelec's supplementary budget will be processed before Congress adjourns in March. At present, Gordon said he sees no moves to delay the release of the funds which could jeopardize the elections.
"The moment it is approved, it has to be released immediately. The law says we have to train, the law says we have to publish and train everybody on this matter. Kaya kailangang lumabas talaga," Gordon said.
Senator Francis Escudero, meanwhile, said he wants a large part of the supplemental budget be used for the cleaning of the list of voters. He also asked for a time simulation exercise of the election process since each OMR can only process 1,000 ballots per day. Each OMR will be assigned to a consolidated precinct.
Casiple said voting hours on election could be extended from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. for faster ballot counting. He said results of the elections could be released from 24 to 48 hours while actual canvassing could take longer.
"Last time [canvassing] lasted a month, so we'll see in the next elections," he said.
2.5M names in voters' list 'polluted'
The Institute of Political and Electoral Reform, meanwhile, urged Comelec to implement the biometrics process for all voters to weed out 2.5 million "polluted" names in its official list of voters.
IPER president Loretta Rosales said cleaning the voters' list is the first step towards having clean elections. "President Arroyo allegedly won by 1.1M votes in 2004, which is far less than the 2.5. polluted voters. If we don't cleanse the registered voters list, we might have to go through another 2004 election," she said.
Rosales said use of the biometrics system would help clean the voters' list of bogus voters. Biometrics is defined as having voters' signature stored, picture taken and finger prints scanned in the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS).
She said 25 million of the country's 48 million registered voters have already re-registered using the biometric system.
According to Comelec spokesman James Jimenez, the poll body will spend at least P800 million to purchase the Automated Fingerprint Identification System for the 2010 polls.
Escudero, meanwhile, said the biometrics system could be a problem for Filipinos overseas since they have to travel to their embassies and consulates to register.
"Sometimes, no overseas Filipino actually votes, number of registrants not withstanding. The expense does not match the returns. Maybe it would be better to allow these overseas Filipinos to vote via the Internet," he said. With reports from Maricar Bautista, ABS-CBN News; and Thea Teves, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak