It's final: PH to use contentious voting machines

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Thursday, August 13, announced that the Philippines will use the voting machines of controversial technology provider Smartmatic in the presidential elections in May 2016. 

In a media briefing, Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista announced the poll body's decision to lease 93,000 optical mark readers (OMRs) from Smartmatic.

OMR is the generic name for the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines that the Philippines used in the 2010 and 2013 elections.

Bautista said the Comelec en banc made a unanimous decision to lease the machines. He explained that this is "the most prudent approach."

"The commission believes that this is the most viable, practical, and safest option to pursue in our efforts to ensure the credibility of the 2016 elections," Bautista said.

He enumerated the following advantages of leasing new machines:

Malacañang said in a statement that the Comelec decision “is in fulfillment of its constitutional mandate to ensure the conduct of orderly and credible elections.”

“We note that, according to Chairman Andres Bautista, this decision took into account timely delivery, adequate time for testing the new machines, and the need to address problems encountered in the past two elections.  Citizen vigilance and support will go a long way toward enabling the Comelec to fulfill its mandate,” Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr said.

Unprecedented crisis

By making this decision, the Comelec in effect rejected calls to blacklist Smartmatic, a Venezuelan firm, as an election service provider. 

Critics have claimed that Smartmatic machines can be easily rigged. (READ: Poll watchdog pushes for 'laptop count' to replace PCOS)

The Comelec earlier awarded to Smartmatic the contract for the lease of 23,000 OMRs.

The Comelec will then combine the 23,000 OMRs with the 70,977. This means the Philippines will use 93,977 Smartmatic OMRs in the upcoming elections.

This also means the Comelec is junking the initial proposal to refurbish 81,896 PCOS machines and combine these with the 23,000 OMRs. (READ: 2 bids, 1 choice to seal fate of 2016 elections)

The Comelec reached these decisions after a Supreme Court ruling in April thrust the poll body in an unprecedented crisis.  

The ruling practically barred the Comelec from using 82,000 vote-counting machines because it nullified a P268.8-million ($5.94-million)* contract to repair these. 

The SC declared the contract illegal because the Comelec failed to subject it to public bidding. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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