THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) has denied reports that the ballots printed for the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (Armm) have no security markings.

Archbishop Oscar Cruz and Fr. Joe Dizon of Kontra Daya 2010, a group concerned with the automated election system, said the Armm ballots did not contain the security features of the National Printing Office (NPO).

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But Comelec spokesman James Jimenez argued that the NPO security markings are not critical since the poll body and its election partner, Smartmatic-TIM, would have markings of its own.

“Reports have it that Armm ballots have no security marks. This is not true. There are security marks in the ballots, just not all the security marks,” said Jimenez.

The NPO is tasked to print two sets of ballots, one of which is the Armm ballots that are 27 inches long. Voters in the rest of the country will be using 25-inch ballots.

There are also two sets of security marks to be placed in the ballots.

The Comelec official explained that the Armm ballots contain only one set -- that of the Comelec and Smartmatic -- which are mandated by law to be in the ballots.

The 25-inch ballots, meanwhile, will have the two sets of security marks since NPO made the suggestion of the second set rather late.

“NPO have been insisting that it should be placed to the ballots in addition to the Comelec security marks,” said Jimenez.

NPO originally made the recommendation of additional security marks -- an ultraviolet (UV) ink and a 2D bar code -- one day before the printing of the Armm ballots.

The printing of the Armm ballots have been completed last January 15.

All the ballots would have five security features that would allow the poll body to "identify the authenticity of the ballots" including the unique paper, UV ink from Comelec, bar code from Comelec, other Comelec markings and unique precinct-based markings.

Jimenez noted that the NPO markings are not critical to the security of the ballots.

“The Comelec security marks are what the ballots need to be secure. Why? These are the marks that would determine whether or not the ballot is authentic and should be used by the voter. The NPO marks are simply additional safeguard, for added security...NPO feels that there is a need to put their mark there to be true to their mandate but ultimately, those are not necessary,” said the poll body official.

But to compromise on the markings, Comelec decided to approve the UV ink recommendation of NPO.

Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal explained that it would be difficult to approve the 2D bar code proposal since it will still require testing.

“That was a little difficult because the kind of security mark that they were planning to include still required testing by Systest," said Larrazabal.

If the Comelec had approved the suggestion of NPO, the printing would have been delayed by days or weeks.

“It's quite difficult to implement because it will delay the start of the printing and the printing itself because what will happen is that each ballot will have a separate 2D bar code and it would still need to be integrated into the software,” said the commissioner.

The precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines that will scan the 25-inch ballots would have to be reconfigured because of the additional NPO UV ink.

To recall, the printing of ballots was stopped for 12 hours after completing the Armm ballots to adjust the machines for the 25-inch ballots to be printed for the rest of the country.

The Armm ballots meanwhile are still stored at the NPO office and will be shipped shortly before the elections. Comelec recorded 1,882,339 voters in the Armm area.

PCOS delivery

In a related development, Commissioner Larrazabal said the poll body is ready to impose a fine on Smartmatic if they will fail to beat its February 28 deadline on delivery of poll machines.

Smartmatic awaits a P7.1 million penalty per day.

The last batch of PCOS machines was shipped last February 20 and will arrive on Friday, February 26.

Smartmatic earlier said all the automated machines will be delivered on February 21st.

In a text message to Sun.Star, Smartmatic spokesperson Gene Gregorio said that out of the 82,200 PCOS machines, 64,620 are already stored at the warehouse in Cabuyao, 4,000 are awaiting release from the Bureau of Customs, a batch of 7,200 are in-transit, and another batch of 6,380 also in-transit. (Kathrina Alvarez/Sunnex)