MANILA - Printing of official ballots for the upcoming May 9, 2022 national and local elections finally began on Thursday at the National Printing Office (NPO), according to the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
In a message to journalists, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said “about 60,000” local absentee voting (LAV) ballots will be printed first.
The original schedule for start of printing, based on the election calendar of activities, was on Jan. 15, but this was moved to the 17th due to finalizations on the “ballot face” or final ballot look.
The printing did not push through on the 17th and was moved to Jan. 19, but did not materialize due to “various technical factors.”
Ballots for LAV will not contain the names of candidates since voting will be manual, meaning the voter writes down the names of the candidates, as opposed to the manual shading of ovals corresponding to the candidates’ and party-list groups’ names on the ballot in overseas and regular in-country voting.
Overseas voting ballots were supposedly first to be printed, based on previous pronouncements by the Comelec printing committee, chaired by Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas.
No explanation was given on the shift to LAV ballots.
A total of 67,442,714 official ballots, 65,745,512 of which are for local or in-country voting, and the remaining 1,697,202 for overseas voters, will be printed.
Dir. Helen Aguila-Flores, printing committee vice-chair, had expressed optimism printing will be completed by April 21.
The last ballots to be printed are the ones for the National Capital Region.
Three printers will be running at a given time, with one contingency printer on standby.
During a walkthrough of the printing process on Jan. 18, Abas assured the public protocols that will be observed during the duration of ballot printing shall be safe, thorough and secure.
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 shall measure 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.
Visual verification is the quality control of physical appearance, margin allowances, timing marks placement, general appearance.
Ballots showing error (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 vote-counting machine (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 budget for ballot printing for the upcoming polls is around P1.3 billion.
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