By Samuel P. Medenilla, January 30 2019; Business Mirror

Image Credit to Business Mirror

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is now eyeing 24-hour shifts in the production of ballots to offset the delays in its preparations for the May 2019 national and local polls.

During the BusinessMirror Coffee Club forum on Tuesday, Comelec Spokesman James B. Jimenez finally admitted they are already over a week delayed in their preparation timeline for the midterm elections.

“We have reached the point where we can say our schedule is now really tight,” Jimenez said.

The printing of the ballots was supposed to start on January 24, but it was pushed back to a latter date following the deferred release of the final list of 2019 candidates.

The original release date of the list was on December 15, 2018, but was only publicly released on January  26, 2019, due to pending disqualifications cases of some of the candidates.

“It was turned over to our IT [information-technology] department. They said it would take them five to six days to load it [to our Election Management System],” Jimenez said.

He said the structural renovation at the National Printing Office (NPO) also affected their schedule for the ballot printing.

The Comelec is now targeting to start the printing of the 61 million ballots for the 2019 election on February 2.

24-hour shifts

With only around three months left before the midterm polls, Jimenez said they would be implementing a 24-hour shift in the NPO to ensure they will complete the production of the ballots on time.

“We will start working in 24-hour shifts as soon as we start printing at the printing office,” Jimenez said.

Strictly speaking, Jimenez explained, they have no problems with the actual printing of the ballot itself, since the process is automated.

“When the machines are operating at peak efficiency, you are talking about more than a million ballots per day. It could even be pushed to over 2 million per day,” Jimenez said.

The problem lies with the necessary verification of the printed ballots, which would have to be manually inserted to the vote-counting machines for verification.

“It is done by hand. Literally each one of the 61 million ballots will have to be fed to a counting machine,” Jimenez said.

He said they are now mulling over tapping more personnel to help in completing this cumbersome process.

“Depending again on the availability of funds, we will increase our compliment by about 10 percent or we will be diverting people from other nonessential task to focus on the verification,” Jimenez said.

No additional cost

The final ballot for the 2019 elections are expected to contain the names of about 76 senatorial candidates and 132 party-list groups.

The candidates for senators may still be reduced in the coming days, since about 13 of them are still awaiting certificate of finality in their cases.

The number of 2019 candidates is significantly higher compared to the 50 senatorial candidates and 115 party-list groups in the 2016 ballots.

Jimenez said this led them to use a longer ballot for the 2019 polls.

In 2016, he said, the ballot they used was only about 17 inches. For the upcoming midterm elections, the Comelec will be using a ballot that will be 22 to 25 inches long.

Still, the poll body said it does not expect to incur additional cost from using the longer ballot.

“What we have are rolls of uncut paper, so we could trim it [to our preferred length] as needed. Based from my observation on our available paper [supply], we don’t see any impact cost [from printing] longer ballots,” Jimenez pointed out.