Problems with poll automation piling up

By Aries Rufo,

Posted at Dec 16 2009 06:43 PM | Updated as of Dec 17 2009 02:48 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Trouble is brewing in the Philippines' first nationwide poll automation, and the signs are slowly unfolding.

The failure of Smartmatic-Total Information Management (Smartmatic-TIM) to deliver 42,000 machines this December is just one of a series of bungled deliverables that the winning consortium has failed to comply with as stated in the terms of reference and award of contract.

Smartmatic earlier announced that it could only deliver 30,000 machines, or 12,000 units short of the agreed number. The firm is contracted to produce a total of 82,200 machines by February.

Commission on Elections (Comelec) chair Jose Melo has expressed concerned about Smartmatic’s inability to deliver the required number of units.

The Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) said this is actually the second time that Smartmatic failed to comply with the terms of the contract. It said that Smartmatic-TIM should have delivered 12,000 units last November and another 30,000 this month.

The pattern of failure is creating a domino effect on the Comelec’s timetable.

No field tests, mock polls

Comelec sources familiar with the automation contract say that apart from failing to meet the delivery schedule of the machines, Smartmatic-TIM also failed to conduct field tests that should have been held last November.

Under the Terms of Reference (TOR), two field tests were supposed to be held last November to simulate the voting, counting and transmission of votes. “The field tests were supposed to be nationwide. The Comelec will validate the data that was transmitted to make sure the machines and the transmission are working,” one source said.

After the field tests, mock elections were supposed to be held this December. However, because no machines were delivered, the field tests and the mock elections were also not conducted as scheduled

Smartmatic-TIM could only deliver 100 counting machines last week, which the Comelec said it will use for voters' education.

Delayed training of teachers

Also delayed is the training of teachers and technicians on how to operate the machines. The Comelec said the training will start in January, or two months behind schedule.

Earlier, Education Secretary Jesli Lapus said teachers should not be blamed if they are not ready for the automated polls because Comelec has yet to train them.

It is not clear when the field tests and the mock elections will be held.

With the series of snafus, various sectors are now asking the Comelec to decide this month to implement partial automation.

Hybrid elections

In the House of Representatives, Speaker Prospero Nograles advised Comelec to prepare for the possibility of "hybrid elections."

"The fall back and the cheaper way would be the proposal of deputy Speaker Cebu Rep. Pablo Garcia, which is to manually count but electronically transmit it," said Nograles in a Tuesday press conference.

Garcia was among those who questioned the Comelec plans to automate the 2010 elections. (See story: Arroyo ally says full automation of 2010 polls illegal)

"This might be an option that can be considered in the event that full automation cannot be achieved," Nograles added.
"I am also concerned. The voters' information drive on automation was supposed to have started in November. Now it's December. I heard it's going to be in January or February," Nograles said. -- With reports from Carmela Fonbuena