By Gerard Naval | Malaya Business Insight
THE partnership between the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and Smartmatic International will continue in the May 9, 2022 national and local polls.
This after the multinational election systems firm bagged the Comelec’s P452.5-million procurement project for software for the automated elections system.
The Comelec-Smartmatic partnership which started in 2010 has been tainted by controversies, including questions about transparency in the conduct of elections being handled by a foreign entity instead of the Comelec. In the 2019 midterm polls, questions about the integrity of election results were raised after Smartmatic had to address a seven-hour delay in the release of results from the transparency server. In the 2016 elections, Smartmatic personnel were found to have implemented a “cosmetic change” in the system that allowed it to recognize the letter “ñ” in candidates’ names instead of just showing question marks.
President Duterte, in a speech in Japan in 2019, advised Comelec to stop its partnership with Smartmatic because of allegations of fraud. He also noted that technical problems that marred the 2019 polls were seen again in 2010, 2013 and 2016 elections.
For next year’s elections, Smartmatic submitted a bid of about P402.7 million for the software procurement.
“On behalf of the Commission en banc, the undersigned hereby awards to Joint Venture of SMMT-TIM 2016, Inc. and Smartmatic USA Corp., the contract for the procurement of automated election system (AES) software for the election management system (EMS), vote-counting machines (VCMs) and consolidation and canvassing system (CCS) to be used in the 2022 National and Local Elections,” said Comelec chairman Sheriff Abas in a notice of award released by the Comelec yesterday.
The EMS sets up the automation of the polls and manages election-related data such as geographical subdivisions, voting jurisdictions, number of registered voters, candidate details, information on the members of the board of election inspectors, and prepares ballot templates for each town and city nationwide.
The VCMs are the actual voting machines to which accomplished ballots are fed and digitally captured.
The CCS reads incoming voting data, consolidates them, and canvasses the votes.
Since 2010, Smartmatic has been the perennial supplier of voting machines used by the Comelec, including the ones used in the 2019 polls.
Amid preparations for next year’s elections, Comelec Commissioner Antonio Kho reiterated there is no time to introduce a hybrid elections system.
“When you do hybrid elections, we will start from zero again, then training, acquisition of equipment, etc. It may not be doable anymore,” Kho said in an online forum.
He said the poll body has long been waiting for Congress to pass a law mandating the use of a combination of manual and automated elections system.
“We respect the decision of our national leaders, whether they want a hybrid elections or not. We are just waiting for them. It’s just that. To us, a hybrid election is already a timing issue,” said Kho.
He suggested its use in the 2025 elections.
“By then, we will be ready. Probably, the new commissioners, who will be appointed in the Comelec, would be ready to implement hybrid elections,” said Kho.
Several bills have been filed at both the House of Representatives and the Senate calling for the use of a hybrid elections system, wherein voting and counting will be manual, while transmission and canvassing are automated.
While satellite voter registration will resume this week, it will not yet be available nationwide and on a daily basis.
Based on guidelines set by the Comelec, satellite voter registration will only be available during Saturdays and on disinfection days scheduled by their local government units (LGUs).
“As the schedule may vary per locality, the public is advised to stay tuned for the announcements of their local Comelec offices,” said Comelec spokesman James Jimenez.
He also said off-site voter registration are allowed only in areas under general community quarantine (GCQ), modified general community quarantine (MGCQ), or no quarantine classification.
Satellite voter registration was suspended in March due to the surge of COVID-19 cases in the country.
Comelec also said a new voter registration schedule will be implemented in areas where they are not suspended: Receipt of applications for voter registration will be from Monday to Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the local Office of the Election Officer. Previously, voter registration activities are conducted from Mondays to Thursdays.
The Comelec and Department of Education (DepEd) are looking at implementing two shifts for public school teachers who would serve on election day, following the commission’s plans to extend voting hours to avoid crowding and ensure social distancing in polling precincts.
Education Undersecretary Alain Pascua, during the “Laging Handa” public briefing, said teachers may be asked to provide up a maximum of eight to 10 hours of work per day because beyond that would lead to exhaustion.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones, in the same briefing, said the Comelec gave a positive response to DepEd’s request for higher pay and additional benefits for teachers who would render service on election day.
The DepEd is asking for P9,000 compensation for chairpersons of electoral boards, P8,000 for board members, P7,000 for Department of Education Supervisor Official, and P5,000 for support staff from the current P2,000 to P6,000 honoraria.
DepEd is also asking for a P500 daily COVID-19 hazard pay, on-site swab testing and other health services, P2,000 transportation allowance, and P1,000 food and water allowance. – With Jocelyn Montemayor