Wrong ink used on ballots
By Sheila Crisostomo
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – Now it’s the wrong ink.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has admitted that Smartmatic-Total Information Management Corp. (TIM) supplied the wrong ultraviolet (UV) ink used in the printing of the ballots for the May 10 elections, and that these marks are thus unreadable by the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines.
However, Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal refused to say if the supplier would be penalized.
“I don’t want to preempt because at this point in time that question has to be decided by the en banc,” Larrazabal said.
A UV mark is placed on each ballot as one of the security markings.
According to Consortium on Electoral Reforms executive director Ramon Casiple, the poll body has decided to shut off the UV readers of the PCOS machines after they failed to read many ballots during the laboratory tests last January.
Casiple, also a member of the Comelec Advisory Council on Poll Automation, claimed that the UV ink provided by Smartmatic-TIM “lacked the density” needed to be read by the machines.
As a way out, the Comelec will instruct the teachers serving as Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) to use portable UV lamps to scan the UV security markings on the ballots.
But this will extend the queuing time of each voter by at least two seconds.
The portable UV lamps are the same ones used to check whether currency is fake or real.
Larrazabal would not confirm or deny that the UV ink supplied by Smartmatic-TIM was wrong and refused to divulge the explanation given by the joint venture.
“There’s a number of things and let’s wait for the en banc. For me what is important is there is still a way to authenticate the UV ink. The ballot itself is authenticated by the PCOS machines,” he said.
Asked why the Comelec opted to use portable UV reader instead of replacing the UV ink, Larrazabal said that would have set a bad precedent
“If you do that people will come up with so many excuses to invalidate this ballot and that ballot. Right now we are working on a timeline to ensure that we have ballots on Election Day,” he said.
Another official said the Comelec is actually on schedule as far as the printing of 50 million ballots for the May polls is concerned.
Esmeralda Amora-Ladra, head of the poll body’s printing committee, said they have already printed 55 percent of the ballots as of last count.
Ladra said there is still enough time to finish printing the ballots on April 25, which is currently being done at the National Printing Office (NPO).
She said their level of confidence was further boosted when a fifth printer was commissioned last March 27 by Smartmatic to add to the previous four machines they were using.
Ladra, however, stressed that their effort entailed only the printing of 50 million ballots for automated voting and not the printing for manual voting.
She admitted they were previously wary that they would not finish the printing in time, which made them entertain offers by private printers.
She said that one firm, Secomp Solutions, had offered their technology and services to the Comelec.
“But with the fifth printer, I think we don’t need any additional services,” Ladra said.
Rumors had been circulating at the NPO about the slow progress of the printing of the ballots.
Sources at the NPO said that the ballot printing has only finished 50 percent of the target as of last tally.
Tightened security in Mindanao
In Mindanao, Comelec regional director lawyer Helen Aguila-Flores said police and military forces will tighten security preparations in Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi in relation to the expected arrival of the PCOS machines and their distribution in the region this April.
“The police and military have already prepared the security for the machines and the election period itself,” she said, adding that 2,979 PCOS machines are expected to be deployed in Zamboanga peninsula.
Lawyer Vidzfar Julie, deputy regional Comelec director for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), said they are also expecting the PCOS machines to arrive.
The two election officials said the tight security preparation is needed to safeguard the machines, citing the situation in some areas in the region in the previous election.
Flores said the police and military, in coordination with Smartmatic, have already mapped out the security and deployment arrangement for the machines to avert any sabotage.
She said they have considered all the important matters in the deployment of the PCOS machines, including physical accessibility.
She said the police or the Armed Forces will assist in areas not accessible by normal transportation and areas difficult to penetrate due to the presence of insurgents or threat of armed groups. – Rainier Allan Ronda, Roel Pareño