The Philstar: Melo: Automation to push through

MANILA, Philippines - Despite the birth pains of the first-ever automated polls in the country, Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Jose Melo said yesterday he is confident automation would push through in the May elections.

In a press briefing, Melo admitted being anxious over the country?s first automated elections.

''I will give it an eight (on a scale of one to 10, with 10 as the highest). I?m very confident that we canautomate. There may be some problems, but these are not all within the control of the Comelec,'' he said.

The poll chief cited the failure of Congress to act on their proposal to amend the provisions in election laws on the substitution of candidates.

Under existing laws, the voters must write the name of substituted candidate on the ballots.

Melo claimed that this system could not be applied in the automated polls since the names of the candidates will be printed on the ballots. The voters will simply shade the ovals corresponding to their bets.

A few months ago, the Comelec asked Congress to amend the laws and make the vote for the substituted candidate be a vote for the replacement.

Melo said the Comelec might use its ''inherent power'' to implement this scheme if Congress fails to act on their proposal before the printing of ballots.

The agency is looking at the possibility of having extra ovals on the ballots for substituted candidates, but Melo warned that these might only cause confusion among voters.

The poll chief said he is also worried that some ballot boxes would be damaged on election day so the Comelec is coming up with guidelines on how the Board of Election Inspectors should act on this.

Melo is also concerned over disqualified candidates, whom he asked to respect the Comelec?s judgment.

The Comelec cannot yet start the printing of ballots as it is still deliberating on the motions for reconsideration of those disqualified from the 2010 polls.

AFP cites Resolution 8714

Meanwhile, the military leadership is confident that with Comelec Resolution No. 8714, it can go after partisan armed groups and the New People?s Army (NPA) at the same time.

Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., AFP Public Information Office (PIO) chief, said the resolution would further insulate troops from engaging in partisan political activities.

Among the missions that the military wants to accomplish this coming elections is the disbandment of partisan armed groups (PAGs), he said.

Once the full enforcement of the gun ban takes effect on Jan. 10, Brawner said Comelec-deployed soldiers and policemen would start going after armed security details of national and local officials.

Soldiers who will be tapped for escort duties for politicians will come from the division and unified command headquarters; soldiers assigned to brigade and battalion headquarters would continue their frontline duties, he said.

Automated poll machine provider Smartmatic-TIM is encouraging voters to prepare ?codigos? or cue cards on their candidates to avoid over-voting that could waste their votes altogether, particularly those for senators.

''It (codigo) is a must for voters,'' Smartmatic-TIM spokesperson and public relations manager GeneGregorio said.

''It would also be useful for political parties to provide sample ballots which voters can use to assist them in voting,'' he said.

Gregorio said an education campaign on automated polls should carry ''two key messages'' - that voting will be easy and voters should be cautious about over-voting.

In a recent seminar held by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), election lawyer Louie Guia warned that shading spaces for 13 or more senators on a ballot under the automated polls would invalidate all votes cast for senators.

The same is true for all positions, particularly in those that require voting for several candidates.

Unlike in past elections wherein voters write out the names of their candidates, there could be a tendency for voters in the coming polls to over-vote by merely shading the oval spaces next to the names of all the senatorial bets printed on the ballots, Guia said.

In such cases, all the votes cast for senators would not be counted by the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.

Gregorio said apart from the PCOS machines and corresponding standby batteries for them, Smartmatic-TIM is also providing municipal and city-level election centers with back-up powergenerators.

''At least 1,700 such generators have already arrived,'' he said. - Sheila Crisostomo, Jaime Laude, Ding Cervantes