Comelec: 73% of ballots already printed; ‘good’ ballots printed at 47.4%

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 16 2022 06:42 AM

MANILA—The National Printing Office has printed out 73.7% of the 67,442,616 automated election system ballots required by the Commission on Elections for the May 9 national and local elections.

Officials briefed stakeholders and the media during a walk-through at the NPO facility in Quezon City.

A briefing given by Commissioner Marlon Casquejo, who chairs the poll body’s steering committee for this election, showed that of the 49,737,783 ballots have been printed.

Of these, 55.28 percent have undergone verification, and 31.996 million or 47.44 percent have been marked as good ballots. 

On the other hand, 5.288 million or about 7.84 percent are considered defective ballots that will have to be reprinted.

"All the defective ballots will be shred (sic). Don’t worry about that and will not be deployed," Casquejo said.

He told stakeholders that the Comelec can schedule a shredding of defective ballots that can be observed by stakeholders so they can be assured these won’t leave the Comelec.

A total of 43,725, 551 ballots or about 51 percent have exited the printing process and have been packed for shipment.

As of March 15, the ballots for all regions except the National Capital Region and Region 3 have been printed. 

The NPO is scheduled to start printing NCR ballots March 15, while it has only finished 65 percent of the ballots for Region 3.

The NPO has also printed all manual ballots that will be used in overseas and local absentee voting, as well as 63 barangays in North Cotabato which will only vote for national positions.

Meanwhile, of the 1,401,205 ballots to be used in the final testing and sealing needed, 1,288,001 have been printed—representing 91.9 percent. 

Of these, 790,739 or 56.43 percent are good ballots while 23,074 or 1.65 percent are defective and will have to be reprinted. They represent the 53.08 percent of the ballots that have been verified.

A total of 832,442 FTS ballots or 59 percent have exited the printing process and are being packaged for deployment.

"As to the FTS ballots di pa rin tayo tapos, we still have around 41 percent need to be printed for our FTS ballots. Continuous pa rin ’yung ating VCM kitting kasi VCM kitting natin or production is dependent on the printed FTS," Casquejo said.

"Pasensiya na kung di kaagad na-open ’yung ating NPO for observation because of the COVID pandemic or surge and then we need to catch up with the printing of the FTS.

"We still have around 41 percent, 41 percent of the VCM has not been produced hinahabol namin FTS ballots kasi marami pang di na-print or dumadaan pa siya sa reprinting.”

Casquejo said that during the January 2022 COVID-19 surge the Comelec had limited operations.

He said operators had to work in shifts because of limited space and they could not use all available vote-counting machines. 

Whenever an employee got COVID, operations stopped and the area needed to be disinfected, the Comelec official added. 

Casquejo said when the infection rates fell they printed out the ballots, but the FTS ballots were left behind so they had to allocate one machine for the FTS.

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During the walk-through, the heads of the Comelec’s printing and packing, and shipping committees explained to the media and the stakeholders every detail of the process, beginning with the uploading of the ballot face templates to the NPO’s printers, actual printing, sheeting, verification, packaging for those that passed testing and quarantine and reprinting for those that failed to make the mark.

Those that passed the testing are then handed off to the packaging committee which then package and label the ballots before storing these temporarily at the Comelec’s warehouse in Pasig and the NPO prior to deployment. 

The poll body hopes to finish printing by March 28, while deployment is scheduled from April 20 to May 5. During deployment, the ballots will be delivered to the Treasurer’s Offices of the cities and municipalities which will care for them till the electoral boards get them for use on election day.

Comelec chairperson Saidamen Pangarungan explained that the walk-through is part of his push for transparency in the preparations for the elections.

"This is part of our program for complete transparency, subject only to the limitation that we will not allow to compromise the security of the ballot and the configurations of the SD cards but otherwise we will allow your full access to the activities of the Commission on National Elections," Pangarungan said.

"Itong walk through natin ngayong hapon ay makikita niyo ang printing of ballots. Magkakaroon lang guidelines dito kasi medyo limited ang space ng veiweing room."

Pangarungan said Casquejo will provide the guidelines for access to the viewing room, explaining there maybe a need to rotate access. Those who won’t be accommodated will be able to watch the livestream.

"I can assure you itong eleksyong ito ay gagawin natin ang aming makakaya na magkaroon tayo ng malinis, free, and peaceful, honest elections sa May 9, 2022," Pangarungan said.

The Vice Chair of the Printing Committee, Deputy Executive Director for Administration, Helen Aguila-Flores explained that the printing process begins when their information technology department loads the ballot face template into the computer server of the NPO. That triggers the printing process. 

Printed ballot rolls will then be cut by a separate machine. The cut ballots will be temporarily packed while awaiting verification. Individual workers then check the ballots with their bare eyes to see if the margins are okay, if there are no smudging or discoloration, or if these are not miscut. 

If the ballot hurdles these physical checks, the ballots are fed into the vote counting machine. If the VCM reads the ballot, then it is considered a good ballot. If the VCM says it is defective, it is quarantined.The good ballots are turned over to the ballot exit group for packing and shipping. Defective ballots are quarantined and reprinted. The reprinted ballots are again verified and packed if these pass testing.

Casquejo however explained that the printed and verified ballots were no longer disinfected prior to deployment as these maybe smudged or rendered defective by the disinfectant.

J Thaddeus Hernan of the Packing and Shopping committee explained that once the good ballots are turned over to them, the ballots will be barcoded to generate the system labels and paper seals that will be used to seal the box that will house the ballots.