MANILA — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) announced Tuesday that the printing of official ballots for the May 9, 2022 elections is expected to begin Wednesday at the National Printing Office (NPO) in Quezon City.
Comelec's printing committee and Education and Information Department on Tuesday also hosted a virtual walkthrough of the NPO, where ballot printing will take place.
Comelec chairman Sheriff Abas, who chairs the printing committee, assured the public that protocols observed at the NPO during the duration of ballot printing would be safe, thorough, and secure.
"Ang mahigpit na protocol na ating ipinapatupad ay testamento sa ating tungkulin na pangalagaan at bantayan ang sagradong boto ng bawat isang Pilipino," said Abas.
Three printers will be running for the printing of 67,442,714 official ballots, 65,745,512 of which are for local or in-country voting, and the remaining 1,697,202 are for overseas voters.
A contingency machine is on standby, in the event any of the printers bog down, according to Comelec Director Helen Aguila-Flores, printing committee vice-chair.
Flores is confident ballot printing will be completed by April 21.
Last to be printed are ballots for the National Capital Region (NCR).
"To us, we treat this process as sacred, we dedicate our efforts, best efforts and hard work to this process… We conduct this walkthrough because we assure the public that it (ballot printing) is done on time," she said.
So far, test ballots being used in Comelec field tests and mock polls have been printed.
The budget for ballot printing for the upcoming polls is around P1.3 billion, according to Flores.
The same paper material used in previous elections will be used in the printing of ballots for this year’s polls, provided by winning bidder Advance Computer Forms, Inc.
Ballot security features include QR codes, timing marks, and invisible ultraviolet authentication marks.
Overseas voting ballots, which shall be printed first because of the month-long voting for Filipino voters abroad, shall measure 25 inches long; and local voting ballots at 26 inches, except for those for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), which measures 30 inches.
Once the ballots are printed, they are cut into sheets, and stamped with a serial number.
They are then transferred to a ballot verification room, where each ballot undergoes visual verification and vote-counting machine (VCM) check.
Ballots showing error such as miscut, with misprinted timing marks, with unnecessary marks and smudges, are segregated and quarantined.
Ballots in quarantine are evaluated for possible retrieval/recovery (for e.g., those with slight margin errors can be corrected, while those with misprinting timing marks generally are no longer recovered), and corrective measures applied to ballots that can still be corrected.
Corrected ballots are fed into a VCM for the verification process.
Ballots without issues that pass the visual verification stage are also fed into the VCM.
The VCM verification phase ensures that the QR codes, timing marks, and other security marks on the ballot are read by the VCM.
Each ballot undergoes this phase to ensure ballot usability and quality.
PACKING AND SHIPMENT
After the verification process, the ballots are turned over to the packing and shipping committee.
Since ballots are precinct-specific, they have to be packed, labeled and shipped to their intended destinations.
Should ballots land somewhere else, the serial numbers on the ballots allows the Comelec to identify and correct misdeliveries.
SECURITY AND COVID-19 MEASURES
Aside from organic Comelec and NPO security personnel, the assistance of the military, police, Bureau of Fire personnel, and other agencies have also been sought to secure the NPO during the ballot printing period.
CCTV cameras are also installed for tight monitoring, but those who enter the area are not allowed to bring mobile phones and cameras.
Strict COVID-19 protocols are in place at the NPO, and standby personnel are identified to replace those who may contract the coronavirus.
There are a total of 150 day shift and night shift workers assigned for ballot printing; 700 ballot verification personnel also working in 2 shifts; and 100 job orders for ballot quarantine.
The Philippines is set to hold its national and local elections on May 9.