Manila, July 16, 2003 By Jose Aravilla (Star) Ballots for the national and local elections next year will contain at least 200 names to choose from but which the Commission on Elections (Comelec) will try to confine to a single page in order to save P400 million.

With so many politicians expressing interest in the May 2004 elections, Comelec has made it clear that it will limit the number of candidates — from president down to municipal councilors — to only as many as can be contained in an election ballot.

"We will limit the ballot to one page at all costs," Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos told The STAR.

In an earlier press conference, Abalos said he was apprehensive that with the simultaneous elections next year being computerized for the first time, the country’s multi-party system and relative liberality in allowing candidates to run on the local level will ultimately cost them an additional P400 million in ballot printing costs.

Unlike before when ballots were blank sheets of paper with designated slots to fill out for specific elective positions, the 2004 ballot will contain sophisticated security codes to prevent cheating as well all the names of the candidates from which voters will mark down their choice.

Abalos explained that it is easy to fill up the 200-name allotted space in the special ballots. He said that with at least four presidential and vice presidential candidates coming from four different political parties, each having 12 sets of senator-candidates, this would already translate to 56 slots.

Add to this 46 accredited party-list candidates and the figure this early easily breaches the 100 candidate-level.

"Then you will still put in the list (varying for every province) the congressmen-candidates, the governors, vice governors and provincial board members, the mayors, vice mayors and councilors. In the local level there are more candidates than in the national level," he said.

Abalos said each special ballot is worth around P10 and thus printing a second page will double the cost. The Comelec expects the number of voters at around 40 million, including overseas Filipino workers, bringing the cost of printing 40 million pieces of one election ballot page alone to P400 million.

"Not only will we double the cost (with so many candidates), we will also double the time of computing," he said. The computerized counting machines to be imported from South Korea could reportedly count 40 ballot pages per minute or 12,000 in five hours, by which time the winner on the city or municipal level could be known.

The Comelec bought around 1,700 units of the computerized counting machines, worth P500,000 each, with 600 additional orders to be shouldered by some local governments.

With all the tabulations being consolidated, the Comelec now expects the results for president and senators to be out in a few days, as compared with the nearly month-long grind of manual counting.

"Not all candidates (president and senators) can wage a national campaign so we will have to disqualify them. It is up to them to sue us and bring us to court but we will limit their number," said Abalos.

He said they could neither adjust the font size nor the spacing in the printing of ballots since it may become too small or confusing for the voters to choose from and too convoluted for the computerized counting machines to read.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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