All go for automated elections in 2010
Landmark measure junks manual electoral system
It’s full speed ahead for the computerized general elections on May 10, 2010, Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair Jose Melo said Thursday.
“We are ready. There will be full automation nationwide,” Melo said at a press briefing Thursday after the Senate passed the House-approved P11.3-billion supplemental budget for the automation of the elections on May 10, 2010.
The Senate approval of the measure at midnight Wednesday finally discarded the fraud-prone manual counting of votes in the country.
Instead of writing on ballots, voters will shade the spaces allotted for the names of candidates. The ballots will then be inserted into the optical machine readers to be placed in clustered precincts all over the country.
Melo said the Comelec would pursue the nationwide automation of elections, despite opposition and skepticism from certain lawmakers and information technology professionals.
Although exhausted from almost seven hours of debate, main proponents Senators Edgardo Angara and Richard Gordon beamed after the presiding officer, Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, banged the gavel to adopt House Bill No. 5715, which the House of Representatives passed on Monday.
Angara said the supplemental budget was a landmark measure because it buried the electoral system introduced in the country since democratic elections started at the turn of the 20th century.
“It is the beginning of a new era of modern elections. I’m glad that my colleagues have embraced this march to modernization of the electoral process,” he said.
With nine of the 13 senators voting to support poll automation, Angara and Gordon declared in separate interviews after the plenary vote that the approval of the measure marked the end of the manual counting of votes in the country.
Angara, chair of the Senate finance committee and sponsor of the committee report, said the supplemental budget would bring back confidence in government, especially faith in the electoral system.
“It is the first block in confidence building. Faith in the Commission on Elections will begin. This bill is very crucial on the eve of a very crucial election in 2010,” Angara said in an interview right after the chamber adjourned for a month-long Lenten break at about 1 a.m. Thursday.
Results in two days
The results for national candidates from President, Vice President and senators will be known in two days, the Comelec said.
Comelec officials told senators before the plenary vote that technically voting would be manual, but the counting and transmission of votes would be automated.
The senators who voted for the measure were Senators Angara, Gordon, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Loren Legarda, Rodolfo Biazon, Lito Lapid, Ramon Revilla Jr., Gregorio Honasan and Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr.
Four senators—Benigno Aquino III, Jinggoy Estrada, Jamby Madrigal and Francis Escudero—voted against the measure.
“I am not willing to spend even a single centavo for a system which is not tested, for a system we cannot even describe or define, or a system that we’re not even sure of delivering a clean, honest and fair election,” Escudero said.
Madrigal said the planned automation could turn into a “nightmare” because the fundamental institutional reforms had not been implemented in the Comelec.
Legarda voted for the measure, although she said she was cheated in the 2004 elections when she ran for Vice President.
Legarda said that even in automated elections, the manner of manual voting was still greatly susceptible to fraud.
“I will vigilantly guard the Comelec in this process every step of the way in the hope that finally, free, honest and democratic elections can be held in our country that is truly reflective of the people’s will,” she said.
The approval of the measure prompted Zubiri, the Senate majority leader, to challenge the Comelec to do its job.
“We did our job, it’s time for you to do your job,” he said.
Focus on common good
Melo, who was present during the lengthy deliberations, assured the senators that the poll body could implement to the letter Republic Act No. 9369, or the Amended Automated Elections Law, which prescribes full automation of the country’s electoral exercise on May 10 next year.
The automation law was supposed to be implemented in the May 2007 elections but the Comelec sought a postponement, citing lack of time for preparations.
“With automated elections, our people can rely on the fact that their vote will be counted, and that their vote will mean change for the country, then they will stop being cynical. And once they stop being cynical, perhaps the focus will now be on the common good,” said Gordon.
At the press briefing, Comelec commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer said the poll body would not consider suggestions to put on hold the nationwide computerized polls because of logistical problems. Neither will it look into the proposal of some IT experts to use the Open Election System, he said.
“Comments such as those are already too late in the day,” Ferrer said.
Melo said full automation under the Precinct Counting Optical Scan (PCOS) would considerably reduce instances of fraud and cheating. It will also lessen election complaints because the system promises to be fast and accurate, according to the Comelec chief.
PCOS is a ballot-based system in which the voter will mark his choices on a specially printed ballot that features security markings. The ballot will then be fed into a scanner, which records and stores the votes.
Bidding by end March
Melo said the Comelec was within its timeline for the election preparations.
Since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is set to sign the budget in the next few days, the Comelec sees the start of the bidding for the PCOS supply contract by the end of March.
Melo said the Comelec was set to approve the terms of reference (TOR) for the bidders on Friday and publish it next week.
“We want to give the service providers the opportunity to comment on the TOR then we will begin with the bidding process soon,” he said.
Rent 80,000 machines
The Comelec aims to award the contract before May 22 to give the winning bidder ample time to configure the machines. The poll body said it would rent around 80,000 machines for the 2010 elections.
Eleven foreign firms have expressed interest in bidding for the PCOS contract. These are US firms Sequioa, Avante, ES/S, Hart and Scantron; Venezuela’s Smartmatic; United Kingdom’s DRS; India’s Bharat; South Korea’s DVS Korea; Gilat Solution of Israel and Spain’s Indra System.
“These companies have demonstrated capabilities and good track records of successfully holding actual elections abroad,” said Commissioner Rene Sarmiento.
Based on the Comelec calendar, the supplier should deliver the machines to the Comelec on Nov. 28 and test the machines in December.