Comelec now open to ‘hybrid’ voting
The majority of election commissioners are leaning toward a “hybrid,” or virtually manual election system, even before they conduct a bidding for optical mark readers (OMRs) next month.
The Inquirer learned this development on Thursday as the Commission on Elections (Comelec) top brass agreed to hold a public demonstration on June 27 of the precinct automated tallying system (Patas) where the counting of the votes would be done manually with only the transmission and canvassing done electronically.
An initiative of former Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman, Patas is touted as better than the Comelec’s current precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines acquired from Smartmatic-TIM five years ago.
The PCOS machines can read, count and transmit votes from the precinct level.
Comelec Chair Andres Bautista said that if Patas proved reliable in the end-to-end demonstration, the Comelec would give it “serious consideration” as a backup plan in case the coming biddings for the refurbishment of the PCOS machines or additional OMRs end up as failures and the Comelec had no more time to conduct another bidding or negotiation.
A top Comelec official, who requested anonymity for lack of authority to speak for the poll watchdog, said at least four of the seven members of the Comelec would favor the junking of the PCOS machines or buying more OMRs for the hybrid system.
Not yet decided
In a phone interview, Bautista denied that the commissioners had already made up their minds on what direction to take in the 2016 elections.
But the way he sounded, he indicated that he did not have full confidence in the reliability of the PCOS machines.
Bautista questioned whether Smartmatic-TIM’s PCOS machines would perform at peak condition in the elections, given their age and mileage.
The Comelec is bidding out a P2.88-billion contract to refurbish and upgrade the 82,000 PCOS machines in its warehouse.
“There is no guarantee that all of these machines would work at optimum levels on Election Day,” Bautista said.
The Comelec has scheduled a parallel bidding for the purchase of new OMRs—one for 22,000 OMRs and another for 80,000 OMRs.
The election watchdog would honor only one of the contracts depending on how the refurbishment contract would go.
So far, only Smartmatic has bought the bidding documents for the purchase of new OMRs and refurbishment contract.
It is still possible, however, that the purchase of new OMRs would not turn out as expected because the machines may not work seamlessly with the old PCOS system or the new OMR would not function properly.
That is the reason Bautista said the Comelec had a third option, a hybrid, which some sectors say is practically a manual system because the bulk of the voting and the counting of votes will be done manually.
It is not clear, however, whether the combination of manual voting and automated transmission needs legislation. The current law authorizes only fully automated elections.
Bautista, a lawyer, said that in his view, Republic Act No. 9369, or the Automated Election System Law, allows a hybrid system because the transmission and canvassing would still be done electronically.
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