Imee Marcos sponsors hybrid elections bill

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 15) — Senator Imee Marcos is pushing for a hybrid mode of manual and automated elections, citing a supposed "lack of transparency" in the current voting system.

The senator, who chairs the Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms and People's Participation, endorsed for plenary approval Senate Bill 1950 or the Hybrid Election Act during Monday's session.

The bill seeks the conduct of a hybrid election "to ensure transparency and credibility of the electoral process." It consolidates previous bills on hybrid polling which she and Senate President Vicente Sotto III previously filed.

The proposed system will still use appropriate technology for voting, counting, canvassing, and transmisison of election results, but manual counting will also be utilized in precincts, the bill read.

Marcos said the fully automated election system which has been used in 2010 has been marred by supposed vote counting irregularities such as early transmission of votes, foreign access in election servers, installation of an additional device known as a "queuing server" in the middle of the transmission process, script change in the middle of the live transmission of results, and incomplete transmissions of results.

"The need for a random manual audit under the AES points to its lack of transparency in reading ballots. Manual vote counting will, at the very outset, ensure transparency and the security of our votes," Marcos said.

She noted: "How do we know that our votes are counted correctly by a fully automated election system? We don't."

Under the proposal, the printing of ballots will no longer be outsourced but will be confined to the National Printing Office. A bar code, which can be scanned to project a ballot's digital image and authenticate it, will be a new feature on official ballots. There will also be an automatic recount if a discrepancy of at least 2% occurs between vote tallies done manually and transmitted electronically.

Meanwhile, Marcos noted that the procurement process of equipment and materials would still be "intact," despite reports that she was the one who attempted to waive safeguards on poll equipment in the 2021 General Appropriations Bill.

Senate finance committee chair Sonny Angara previously said the controversial provision, which authorizes the Commission on Elections to disregard requirements and safeguards provided under Section 12 of the Automated Election Law, was already removed in the bicameral version of the bill.

Marcos did not directly address the allegation during her sponsorship speech. But in an interview with CNN Philippines on November 30, she said she was against the proposed waiving of of safeguards, calling it a "dangerous precedent."

Election lawyer Emil Marañon on Monday warned against a hybrid system, noting that the Commission on Elections, Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, Congress and civil society organizations have found it "costlier, time-consuming, and error-prone" after an actual test held in 2015.

On Sunday, vice presidential spokesperson Barry Gutierrez said that it would be "ironic" for the Senate electoral reforms chair to have pushed to waive poll safeguards herself, alluding to allegations of electoral fraud when late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, her father, assumed the presidency.

READ: VP spox to Imee Marcos: Address claims on 'dangerous' election provision in budget bill 

The senator's brother, defeated 2016 vice presidential bet Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., also has a pending electoral protest against Vice President Leni Robredo, who barely has two years left in her term.