MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has awarded technology firm Smartmatic the multi-million project for the lease of 10,000 additional vote-counting machines (VCMs) in the 2022 elections, a document showed.
The project matters because increasing the number of machines will ultimately help decongest polling precincts during an election impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Based on the Comelec’s procurement monitoring report published on its website on Thursday, January 27, the poll body issued a notice of award on the deal to lease VCMs on December 21, 2021.
The matrix, which was updated as of December 31, indicated that the Comelec and Smartmatic had yet to sign the contract as of that time.
Smartmatic, the lone bidder in the deal, tendered a bid of P863.971 million ($16.832 million) in November, which was just below the contract’s approved budget of P864.024 million ($16.833 million).
That budget was an increase from the original maximum budget for the contract of P600.503 million ($11.699 million) during the first round of bidding in September.
Smartmatic – the only firm to purchase bidding documents – did not submit a bidding proposal to the poll body at the time, citing the insufficient budget of the Comelec.
“The pandemic has disrupted the global supply chain servicing the electronic sector, resulting in huge backlogs in the manufacturing process,” Smartmatic’s authorized representative Filipinas Ordono had said. “[This] has led to an acute global shortage in electronic components, which has driven up costs to unprecedented levels of 20% to 25%.”
Now that the Comelec has 10,000 additional VCMs, it can achieve its goal of reducing the number of voters assigned per precinct to 800 for the 2022 polls, from 1,000 in the 2019 elections.
With the ratio of one VCM per clustered precinct, there could be around 10,000 more polling places for the May elections.
The Comelec has 97,345 VCMs in its possession. Nearly all have been subjected to refurbishment, a project also led by Smartmatic after winning the P637-million contract in June.
Once Smartmatic signs the contract for the VCM leasing project, the deals the company will secure for the 2022 polls will amount to P3.1 billion.
Past 2022-related contracts include:
- P1.053-billion ($20.518 million) contract for the procurement of secure electronic transmission services
- P637.443-million ($12.419 million) contract for the refurbishment of VCMs
- P402.725-million ($7.846 million) contract for the procurement of an automated election software
- P162.088 million ($3.157 million) contract for the lease of external batteries of VCMs
Smartmatic has bagged the most Comelec contracts since the Philippines shifted to automated elections in 2010. The firm claims it is 100% privately-owned and has no ties to political groups.
Election irregularities, the most recent of which was in 2019, have damaged the credibility of Smartmatic. These include a delayed transmission of election results to the transparency server, now infamously known as the seven-hour glitch.
However, despite criticisms against Smartmatic, random manual audits of the 2016 and 2019 elections – where independent auditors manually tallied votes and compared the results with machine tallies – yielded an accuracy rate of over 99%. – Rappler.com
$1 = P51.33