Comelec reveals wishlist: new voting machine tech, stamping pens

Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 04 2023 05:01 PM

MANILA — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Thursday presented its wishlist of sorts for the machines and Automated Election System (AES) that would be used in the 2025 National and Local Elections. 

In a press conference presenting the Terms of Reference for the AES, Comelec chairman George Erwin Garcia said the commission would look for an automated counting machine equipped with features of an Optical Mark Reader (OMR) paper-based AES with Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) capabilities. 

Garcia said the OMR method, which is currently being used where voters shade a ballot, will be used for domestic voting while the DRE method, which uses a touch screen feature, will be used for overseas voters. 

Meanwhile, the DRE capability refers to the machine’s ability to display the positions and candidates on the screen and allows the voters to select their choices by touching the screen similar to that of an ATM. 

Explaining why the proposed system will not be purely OMR or DRE, Garcia said that the DRE method would not be practical for local use as it could intentionally delay voting by opponents and cause longer voting time, given the huge number of voters locally. Overseas or even local absentee voters, on the other hand, are fewer and will have the time of several days to cast their votes. 

The Comelec Advisory Council, Garcia said, also recommended a mixture of technologies. 

”Kung parang ATM yan, meron dyan mag wi-withdraw, ang dami daming dala dalang cards, ATM cards, 30 minutes na, andoon pa. Paano kung yung mismong isang botante pabotohin nya for 30 minutes, ang haba ng pila sa likod dahil lang sa pabago-bago," Garcia said. 

(Just like with an ATM, some people could withdraw money using several cards, spend 30 minutes with the machine. What if one voter also spends 30 minutes? The line behind him would be so long by the time he is done.) 

Commissioners Rey Bulay and Ernesto Maceda, Jr. explained there were also practical reasons why DRE could be used for overseas and absentee voters. 

There is no need, for example, to print customized ballots and dispatch to several posts, thereby saving funds. 

"Ang balota nakalagay ang jurisdiction, city... Isang DRE machine can take all your votes, without going through the hassle of printing the ballots kasi paperless yun, and you can check your votes," Bulay said. 

"Yun ang beauty noon, hindi lang namin magawa sa 68 million kaagad. Kaya test case ni chairman at ng en banc ang overseas kasi manageable pa sila, sa ngayon," he continued. 

(The ballot indicates the jurisdiction, city where it would be used. One DRE machine can take all your votes, without going through the hassle of printing the ballots because it's paperless. That's the beauty of it, we just can't roll it out to 68 million voters. That's why the test case of the chairman and the en banc are the overseas voters, because they're still manageable.) 

The Comelec is also contemplating allowing internet voting for overseas voters. 

The DRE feature, Garcia said, can also be used in special elections, plebiscites or referendums where voters are fewer than in national elections. 

The Comelec wishlist also includes stamping pens. Instead of using marking pens to shade ovals next to names of candidates, voters will mark the ballot with a stamping pen to avoid issues such as improper shading. 

"Kasi pag shine-shade, may issue pa ng 50 percent, may issue ng 25 percent. Sasabihin pag hindi 50 percent, hindi bibilangin ng machine. Minsan kasi tinutuldukan lang ng mga botante, ngayon hindi na, tatak lang, kahit hindi siya nagmamarka sa likod,” Garcia said. 

(With shading, there are issues when it's just shaded 50 percent, 25 percent. It's not counted by the machine.)

The proposed automated counting machine will have at least a 12” diagonal large display screen, a ballot entry slot that has an auto-align function to avoid paper jams, and accepts and interprets ballots even when inserted in a skewed way or was folded.

There will be no need for ballot secrecy folders, the Comelec said, as voters would be allowed to fold the ballot. 

The machine should have a ballot scanning speed of 200 mm per second compared to the current 70 mm per second; a printer compartment that has an auto-cut function; and a translucent ballot box. 

Voters’ receipts are still going to be printed.

Transparency audit and count will be conducted after the close of voting, as well the printing of election returns and transmission of electronic election results. 

Votes can be verified after polls close by showing ballot images on the display screen. The electoral board, watchers, voters and the public may visually inspect and manually verify the votes cast by viewing the ballot images that are displayed on the screen.

All ballot images scanned, captured and read by the ACM shall be successively displayed on the screen, one by one, showing the votes obtained by each candidate. 

The Comelec said this would address concerns of those who are calling for hybrid elections with manual counting without forgoing the law’s mandate for full automation. 

“Lahat ng watchers na present sa presinto, pwede nilang makita isa-isa lahat ng balota, back and forth, ballot images ipapakita po sa lahat ng screen," Garcia said. 

"And we will allow everybody even to take pictures of the ballot images so that they themselves can count whether the vote for the mayor is exactly the vote as appearing in the election returns." 

Teachers or members of electoral board, the Comelec said, will be trained adequately.

“That will not be a traditional manual count. So automated pa din lahat so hindi sila totally maninibago... and during the training they can practice sa ating mga machines,” Commissioner Aimee Ferolino said. 

When before, results are transmitted to the central server and transparency server, the proposed system will transmit results from the projected 127,000 clustered precincts directly to the consolidation and canvassing system, Central Server, Majority Server, Minority Server, Media Server, and Citizens’ Arms Server at the same time as proposed by stakeholders.