Jockeying starts for Philippine automated polls

Country's main elections body and poll machine vendors rush ahead of Philippines' first nationwide computerized elections in May 2010.
Written by Melvin G. Calimag, Contributor

MANILA--With just about one-and-a-half-years remaining before the Philippines holds its first nationwide computerized elections, the government's main poll body and machine suppliers are rushing against time to beat the deadline.

The Philippines, a vast archipelago comprising of thousands of islands, is set to conduct its synchronized general elections on May 2010. In August last year, it piloted a poll automation exercise in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to conform to a 2007 law mandating the implementation of computerized elections.

The Commission on Elections, more known to the public as Comelec, has submitted an 11.9 billion pesos (US$252 million) supplemental budget request for the poll automation, but it's still uncertain as to when Congress will give its nod.

The budget for the counting machines was not included in the original appropriation for the Comelec because the agency was still evaluating which poll technology to use when the 2009 budget was passed in December 2008.

Congressional leaders, including Sen. Richard Gordon, principal author of the election automation law, have expressed interest in granting the additional funding with haste upon the resumption of Congress on Jan. 19.

However, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez, said in a phone interview that the poll agency is not expecting to have the budget approved until mid-February.

"That means we can only award the contract and start the procurement of the machines by March or early April," the Comelec official said.

The timetable cited by Jimenez seems to jibe well with the ideal target being looked at by a machine vendor that is hoping to implement a mix of technologies for next year's polls.

Robert Cook, president for worldwide sales at Smartmatic, said in a press briefing Thursday, that March would be a good time to award the contract as this will give the winning bidder sufficient time to roll out the machines, as well as to train poll personnel.

"If they'll announce it on April or May, it may be a little bit more difficult to do it considering the geography of the country," said Cook, whose company participated in the ARMM elections by deploying 2,500 DRE (direct recording electronic) machines.

Although it specializes in DRE technology, Smartmatic has teamed up with two other foreign-based companies to offer an integrated package that includes Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) and Central Count Optical Scan (CCOS).

Smartmatic initiated the tie-up with its technology partners after the Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) came out with a resolution Nov. 29, 2008 recommending that DRE or PCOS technology be used for all poll areas in 2010, and CCOS technology for all other areas not covered by DRE or PCOS technology.

The CAC, and inter-agency advisory body created by the poll automation law and headed by the chairman of the Commission on Information and Communications Technology, is mandated to recommend the "most appropriate, secure, applicable and cost-effective technology to be applied in the automated election system".

Melvin G. Calimag is a freelance IT writer based in the Philippines.

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