No more vote verification for PWDs through headphones

First it was mall voting. Now it’s voter verification through headphones for people who have trouble seeing that won’t see the light of day on May 9.

The Commission on Elections confirmed Thursday, four days before the election, that the headphones connected to vote-counting machines (VCM) will no longer be used by persons with visual disability to verify their votes.

The headphone is one of the features of the VCM intended to allow persons with visual disability to countercheck if their selected candidates match the ones recorded by the machine, especially since they may require an assistor when casting their vote.A member of the Board of Election Inspectors tries vote verification through headphones during the nationwide mock elections back in February. (Photo by Yvette B. Morales)

While the headphones will still be available, the device will be used only to relay instructions to PWDs as to how they are going to cast their vote, lawyer Karen Jimeno, spokesperson of Smartmatic, said.

“The way the VCMs are configured right now, because of the voter’s receipt, the VCM won’t ‘read’ or orally state the names of the candidates voted by the PWD,” Jimeno said in a text message.

She added that the VCM’s headphones will only dictate instructions for the PWD how to cast the ballot.

To verify if the candidates they voted for are also the ones recorded by the machine, a voter’s receipt will be issued to the person with disability, as with other regular voters.

This is a problem for people who can’t see as they won’t be able to read what the receipt says.

Jimeno said it will take about one to two minutes for the PWD voter to feed the ballot into the VCM, wait for the machine to process the votes, and print the voter’s receipt.

Comelec has hailed vote verification through the use of hearing devices as one of their PWD-friendly initiatives for the 2016 elections.

It was even the subject of a controversy in February when former Biliran representative Glenn Chong questioned the poll body for allowing people with visual disabilities to verify their votes through this device.

Chong said “it is absurd” to grant this service to PWDs considering they constitute only a small portion of the voting populace.

He also criticized Comelec, as it seemed already prepared to give voter verifiability to PWDs while not granting the public the same opportunity. (See Ex-solon draws flak for insensitive remark about PWDs)

The former lawmaker will get his way after all.

The poll body only released a signed copy of the general instructions on voting by PWDs and senior citizens (SCs) Monday, a week before the elections.

Resolution No. 10108 lays down the guidelines on voter assistors. It says PWD and SC voters may be assisted in the preparation of his or her ballot by a third party only if such fact is indicated in the Election Day Computerized Voters’ List (EDVCL).

It also specifies that in cases where the PWD and SC voter cannot accomplish the ballot on his own, the voter may be assisted either by a relative, by any person who belongs to the same household, or by any member of the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI).

Only those who are of voting age may assist PWDs and SCs and they can only do so three times, except BEI members.

The general instructions also mandates Comelec to prepare a list of accessible polling places (APPs), their locations and a summary of the type of assistance identified by the PWD or SC voter during registration, and communicate it to the election officers as soon as possible.

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