2010 automated polls: Comelec needs to pick tech providers by April

By CARMELA FONBUENA, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak

Posted at Jan 17 2009 07:30 PM | Updated as of Apr 03 2009 11:57 PM

It’s not just the Commission on Elections (Comelec) that is pressured by the looming 2010 automated presidential polls. The technology providers—the private companies that wish to clinch the multi-billion automation contract to provide and operate the voting machines—are as determined and as pressured.
If the Comelec is calling on Congress to immediately pass the bill allocating P11.3 billion supplemental budget for the poll automation, a technology provider recently called on Comelec to award the contract as early as April 2009 or a full year before the May 2010 polls. That is three months away.
“It has to be awarded by March or April. That’s the deadline. Beyond May, the time frame would be an issue,” said Robert Cook, the worldwide sales president of Smartmatic, a technology provider based in Holland.
Comelec is yet to conduct the bidding. The Advisory Council—a group of tech experts and poll watchdogs assisting the poll body in terms of technological aspect of automated elections—is still finalizing the terms of reference for the bidding. According to the Comelec schedule, the terms of reference should be finalized this week.
There’s a lot of preparation needed to prepare the country for an automated elections. It took the technology providers two weeks just to set up in ARMM, which has 1.5 million registered voters or a mere three to four percent of the country’s total 4.5 million voting population.
“It’s important that the Philippines rely on partners with experience, the capacity, and the technology. We can do it on time and on budget. We have the most reliable technology. We have done it before,” said Cesar Flores, Smartmatic’s sales director.
Smartmatic held a press conference on Thursday to demonstrate its voting and counting machines. It is the same company that won four of five contracts in the August 2008 automated polls in the Administrative Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), where two technologies—Direct Recording Equipment (DRE) and Optical Mark Reader (OMR)—were used.
With DRE, the entire elections process is automated from voting, transmission, counting, and canvassing. With OMR, only the counting and canvassing are automated. Either or both technologies are likely to be used in the 2010 polls.
Smartmatic was responsible for using the DRE in Maguindanao province, transmitting of the results from the provinces to the central headquarters, canvassing of votes, and the overall management of the system. The company was paid a total of P525 million for the four contracts.