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Credibility of polls at stake

Alarming indeed is the news, as articulated by Commission on Elections Chair Andres Bautista, that the May 9 polls may have to be “postponed” if the Supreme Court insists on the immediate implementation (as it has indeed so ordered) of its recent ruling.

Ordering that the poll body print and issue a receipt confirming to every voter the contents of his/her ballot, in accordance with the amended Automated Election Law that requires a “paper audit trail” of the voting, the high court insisted that the Comelec doesn’t have the “constitutional competence” to amend or modify the law on computerized voting.

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After the passage of the law, though, the poll body chose to do away with the receipt, citing “time and motion” studies that showed it could lead to delays in the voting. It also aired fears that the receipts could be used for vote-buying, as voters could offer these as “proof” of their votes in exchange for promised payments or bribes.

But this latter problem seems easy to correct as some have proposed that the Comelec provide an empty ballot box where voters could be required to drop their receipts once they have studied them, thus preventing their use in vote-buying. But the paper receipts, said petitioner and senatorial candidate Richard Gordon, are important to reassure voters that the machines recorded their choices correctly and thus ensure the integrity of the elections.

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The extra time needed to print out the receipts and for voters to scrutinize them might prove a more insurmountable problem. Bautista has told reporters that the extra requirement would cause immeasurable delays in voting procedures, perhaps reducing the number of voters accommodated by precincts or calling for the fielding of more machines.

Former Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal has publicly said, however, that the Comelec would need only two extra hours to accommodate the receipt requirement. Concerns that precincts might need to stay open hours after sunset, specially in areas where the supply of electricity is unreliable, are valid. But haven’t the new, speedy procedures instituted by electronic voting effectively shortened the hours that voters spend in the precincts?

And if only to allay concerns, and give voters the right to verify that their votes were recorded and tallied correctly, shouldn’t the Comelec welcome the extra time and effort?

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Bautista hasn’t as yet indicated what interim measures the Comelec will take to implement the Supreme Court decision, which it is required to follow. But I don’t think the extra work and adjustments needed, even if these will mean retuning the computer programs and bidding out the additional paper requirements, will be so onerous as to result in the postponement of the elections.

That, more than the absence of receipts, will utterly destroy the people’s faith in the electoral system. And even if the voting resumes just a few weeks after the constitutionally mandated date, postponement will invariably taint the credibility of this year’s polls.

Poll watchdog groups, who presumably are better acquainted with the voting procedures, including the impact of the voter receipt requirement, have come out generally in favor of the “extra” procedure.

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The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) and the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) have both welcomed the Supreme Court decision.

PPCRV national chair Henrietta de Villa says the receipt issuance may be difficult but it is “doable.” And Namfrel secretary general Eric Alvia hails the Supreme Court for “upholding transparency and the credibility of the polls.”

Aren’t these worthy goals that should transcend any concerns about last-minute corrections and purchases so close to Election Day? Establishing the people’s belief and confidence in the results of the May 9 elections is essential, specially given the expected “tight race” for the posts of president and vice president.

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Details of the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the right of Sen. Grace Poe to run for president have yet to be released, but already it has led to loud, vociferous and even vicious debate.

Social media posts are airing some people’s concerns about having “someone who once turned her back on the country” sitting as president. Others express dismay at “having an American family” (Poe’s children and husband still retain their American citizenship) living in Malacañang.

But I find little evidence to uphold the assertion of some commentators that the Supreme Court decision “proves” that Poe is the “secret candidate” of P-Noy.

They point to the number of Aquino appointees to the Supreme Court, including Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who voted favorably for Poe. But they neglect to mention that other P-Noy justices also voted to deny Poe her right to run for president.

Besides, does the appointing power necessarily—and consistently—indicate which way a justice will vote in every case?

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It is possible, after all, for a Supreme Court member to vote and decide on a case independently, based on his or her understanding of the law and the demands of the common good.

I for one am disturbed at the seeming laxity of the justices in ignoring the issue of Poe’s lack of residency (after recovering her Filipino citizenship, she was found to still be six months shy of the required 10-year minimum to qualify as a candidate). As a younger colleague pointed out: “Six months short is still six months short.”

I’ll wait until I read the detailed explanation of the majority for the way they voted on the Poe case. I just hope it not only makes sense, but also survives the judgment of history and jurisprudence.

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TAGS: Comelec, Elections 2016, Grace Poe, Supreme Court, voting receipts
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