Comelec holds parallel biddings for 2016 vote counting machines

Michael Bueza
The outcome of this series of biddings will decide whether the 2016 presidential election will go fully automated, partially automated, or manual

MANILA, Philippines – On Tuesday, June 30, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) opens the bids for both the refurbishment of existing vote-counting machines and the lease of new ones for the May 2016 national and local elections.

In addition, the Comelec is tackling two more public biddings, both concerning 23,000 more machines that use optical mark reader (OMR) technology, the same one used by precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.

Why the parallel biddings?

All of these are part of the Comelec’s plan to continue with the automation of the 2016 national and local elections, said spokesperson James Jimenez in an interview on Monday, June 29. (READ: 2 bids, 1 choice to seal fate of 2016 elections)

“That is the Comelec’s primary thrust, the automation [of the 2016 polls]” said Jimenez. The poll body plans to finalize its poll automation plans by the end of July, he added.

The refurbishment and repairs of 81,896 PCOS machines – used in the 2010 and 2013 polls – was put up for public bidding after the Supreme Court in April nullified the P268.8-million deal between the Comelec and Smartmatic for the same purpose.

The refurbishment bidding, with an approved budget of P2.88 billion, will be handled by a special Comelec bids and awards committee (BAC), with Jubil Surmeida as chairperson.

A bidding for the lease of 70,977 new PCOS machines was announced as another back-up plan by the commission. This will be tackled by another special BAC under J Thaddeus Hernan. The contract for this has an approved budget of P7.87 billion.

Meanwhile, the Comelec hit a snag in the public bidding for 23,000 additional PCOS machines, which began in December via the regular BAC chaired by Helen Aguila-Flores. In May, PCOS provider Smartmatic-Total Information Management (Smartmatic-TIM) was disqualified during the post-qualification stage.

The Comelec then opened a second round of bidding – under the special BAC chaired by Hernan – still for 23,000 machines, pending the decision on Smartmatic’s appeal. The approved budget for this procurement is P2.5 billion.

Here are the scenarios that the Comelec is looking at in the series of biddings:

  • If the bidding for the refurbishment of nearly 82,000 PCOS machines would fail, the Comelec will strive to award contracts for the 70,977 and 23,000 machines it seeks to lease. (RELATED: SC ruling may render 82,000 PCOS useless)
  • If the refurbishment bidding would succeed, the lease of 70,977 machines will be suspended. Plus, the lease of 23,000 machines will still proceed. In this case, it’s 81,896 existing PCOS machines plus 23,000 new machines.

Which public bidding would prosper for the 23,000 additional machines is another issue altogether:

  • If Smartmatic-TIM’s appeal on the bidding for the 23,000 machines would be granted by the Flores-chaired BAC and it would be awarded the contract, the Hernan-chaired BAC will suspend its proceedings on the other 23,000 units.
  • Otherwise, the Hernan-chaired BAC will continue. Either way, there would be a company that would bag the contract for 23,000 machines, noted Jimenez.

“At the end of this all, we’ll end up with a little over 100,000 machines,” Jimenez said.

Fallback plans

If poll automation plans would not push through, among the poll body’s fallback plans is hybrid voting, or a mix of automated and manual processes.

“What we’re saying is, yes, the law (Republic Act 9369) says you automate [the elections], but if you can’t have automation and there’s really no way around it, then you have recourse to other means of elections, among which would be a hybrid solution,” said Jimenez.

“At that point, you decide: do you want to go hybrid, or is the complexity not worth it so I’ll just go back to manual polls? Those are the hierarchy of options of the Comelec that many people do not understand,” he added.

The group of former Comelec commissioner Augusto “Gus” Lagman presented its hybrid system, the Precinct Automated Tallying System (PATaS), on Saturday, June 27, in the presence of Comelec officials and poll observers at a mock election in Bacoor City, Cavite.

The Comelec gave the observers until July 3 to submit their written comments and position papers on the PATaS, a semi-automated system, using manual voting and counting in polling precincts, and automated canvassing through electronic transmission of election returns. – Rappler.com

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Michael Bueza

Michael is a data curator under Rappler's Tech Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.