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Comelec approves TOR for 2025 automated election system

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has approved the terms of reference (TOR) for the new and fully automated elections system (AES), which will be used starting with the 2025 National and Local Elections (NLE).

In a statement released by Comelec spokesperson Rex Laudiangco, the Fully Automated System with Transparency Audit and Count (FASTrAC), which was first unveiled in May, was approved by the Comelec en banc on July 19.

According to the Comelec, FASTrAC is an upgraded optical mark reader (OMR) paper-based automated elections system with Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) capabilities.

The system features the Automated Counting Machine (ACM), which is intended to replace the more than 90,000 vote counting machines (VCM) used in the 2016 and 2019 elections.

Under the approved TOR, FASTrAC will have the following features:

-Precinct-based upgraded paper-based AES but with DRE capabilities, which still utilizes a paper ballot.

-Election results shall be sent separately and directly from the ACM to the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, dominant majority party, dominant minority party, and citizens arm servers.

-The ballot box shall include a separate box for the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail or voter’s receipts

-Requirement for faster scanning of ballots at a speed of at least 200 mm per second

-Higher resolution of ballot scanning, with a resolution of 300 dots per inch and at least an 8-bit JPEG image

-Larger size of screen display of at least 12 inches diagonal and a minimum screen resolution of at least 1920x1080, with a privacy screen feature

-After closing of polls, printing of Election Returns, and transmission of results, the ACM shall be able to allow transparency in the count of votes in the following manner:

*All ballot images (back and front) are read to be displayed on the screen, one by one, and the votes obtained by each candidate are added after the display of each ballot image

*Allow scanning of VVPAT QR code (winning bidder shall provide a QR code scanner) one by one, displaying in the screen and adding the votes obtained by each candidate

Laudiangco said bidders must meet the requirements stated in the TOR, and the Comelec will accept public bids for lease with an option to purchase, in connection with the 2025 polls and other electoral exercises.

Further, the Comelec en banc approved the reorganization and renaming of the Campaign Finance Office into the Political Finance and Affairs Department (PFAD).

PFAD will be divided into three divisions: the Party Affairs and Registry Division, the Campaign Finance Division, and the Legal Compliance Division.

Laudiangco said this will be the primary office responsible for the enforcement and implementation of all administrative regulations and legislative measures pertaining to electoral parties and campaign finance, as well as serving as the registration office for the proprietary rights of accredited political parties.

PFAD is likewise empowered to initiate complaints against violators of laws pertaining to campaign finance and electoral parties, as well as petitions for perpetual disqualification to hold public office, and to conduct fact-finding inquiries or preliminary  examinations as may be directed by the Comelec. 

It will also have the power to monitor the fundraising and spending activities of candidates and electoral parties, conduct field inspections at the headquarters/offices and open the books and records of electoral parties.

"As Comelec puts a premium on transparency and accountability, PFAD will also ensure that the constitutional right of the people to information on matters of public concern will likewise be strengthened. By strengthening the electoral parties and encouraging them to adopt transparency in their financial status and activities, they shall be held accountable to the electorate," Laudiangco said. — VBL, GMA Integrated News