By Beting Laygo Dolor i Contributing Editor
The controversial London-based company Smartmatic, which held the exclusive right to operate the automated elections in the Philippines under the authority of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), may soon be losing the franchise.
The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) revealed to media on June 21, its proposed hybrid technology which combines an automated and manual count of votes.
This, after President Rodrigo Duterte made known his wishes to end Smartmatic’s hold over Philippine elections for almost a decade.
The President aired his displeasure with Smartmatic following complaints of the seven to eight hour delay in the transmission of elections returns following the May 13 elections.
The DICT presented to media its proposed alternative automated election system featuring a new vote tallying machine.
The vote tallying machine should improve transparency, according to acting DICT Sec. Eliseo Rio Jr., during a demonstration at the Department’s headquarters in Quezon City.
Rio admitted that the current system may be fast but “the will of the people is hostaged by the inability of the vote counting machines to accommodate infirmities.”
The DICT displayed a voting machine described as a “point-of-sales style wireless terminal” which has a scanner as well as a projector.
The features allow poll watchers to display the image of the physical ballot. But it was pointed out that this defeats the principle of the secrecy of the ballot.
The DICT actually proposed three different ways for the electorate to cast their votes.
The first is the freehand system wherein a voter manually writes down his or her choices in a conventional ballot. As a safeguard, once submitted, the ballot can only be counted one time because of the presence of a QR code.
The second method makes use of a barcode wherein voters place barcode stickers of their preferred candidates on the ballot. The ballot is then scanned by the vote tallying machine.
The third method is the scholastic exam style which is similar to the old system. Voters still shade circles representing their choices, but instead of the long format ballot, lotto-style ballots will be issued to voters. Another big change under the third method is that no names of candidates appear in the ballot. The voter will have to pick the number of the candidate designated by the Comelec and shade that number.
Under the present system, voters are given ballots with the names of all the candidates. They then blacken the circles in front of the names of their preferred bets. Once they have completed their ballots, these are then fed into the vote counting machines leased by Comelec from Smartmatic.
At the end of election day, the vote counting machines forward the results to the Comelec headquarters in Manila.
There are several shortcomings to the existing method.
For one, the ballots are more expensive since each local government unit is allotted ballots which contain the names of all candidates for national office alongside bets for local posts.
For another, voters can unwittingly cast their votes for more candidates than allowed. As an example, more than 1.5 million votes were declared null and void last May due to over-voting, where voters picked more than 12 senate bets or more than one party-list.
Rio had earlier said that he hoped the Comelec would adopt a new system “in time for the 2022 elections.”
Under Republic Act no. 9369, otherwise known as the Amended Computerization Act of 2007, the Philippines held its first national computerized elections in 2010. Smartmatic was chosen by the Comelec to supply the machines on a lease basis but purchased the same for the 2013 mid-term elections.