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Solon fears return to manual elections after two failed bids by Comelec


After two automated elections, the country might go back to the manual voting system in 2016 if the Commission on Elections (Comelec) fails to resolve issues concerning the bidding for the contracts for new voting machines and the transmission solutions, a lawmaker has warned.
 
Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga on Wednesday hinted at the possibility of a return to the manual system of elections after Comelec acting chair Christian Lim confirmed to lawmakers that there was a failure of bidding for the lease contract for optical mark reader (OMR) machines and transmission solutions for election returns. 
 
Comelec recently disqualified Smartmatic and its rival company, Indra S.A., from participating in the bid for new voting machines for purportedly submitting defective proposals. On Wednesday, it was discovered that no one took part in the bidding for the election’s transmission component.
 
“[W]ith the failed bidding [of] the PCOS (precinct count optical scan machines) due to the disqualification of Indra and Smartmatic, coupled with the recent development that nobody bidded in today’s bidding for the transmission of elections returns,  the return to manual elections might be forthcoming,” he said in a text message.
 
Adjusted timeline
 
At the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms hearing on the Comelec’s preparation for the 2016 polls Wednesday, Lim explained that the poll body will need to lease an additional 23,000 voting machines to serve the additional 4 million voters who will vote next year, as well as to bring down the number of voters per clustered precinct from the previous 1,000 to 800.
 
But Smartmatic, the supplier of PCOS machines for the 2010 and 2013 elections, has expressed second thoughts about participating in the second round of bidding for the voting machines after the Comelec’s bids and awards committee (BAC) disqualified its bid on a mere technicality.
 
Due to the failed biddings, Comelec has made some adjustments to its timeline for activities related to election preparation.
 
Among the activities whose schedules will be shortened are the systems customization and development, which will now run for four months from May 20 to Sept. 22 instead of starting on March 20, and the review of the source code for new PCOS machines, which will begin on June 15 instead of May 15.
 
No manual elections
 
But despite the adjustments, Lim reassured lawmakers that the country will not go back to manual elections next year.
 
“The Commission is not considering reverting to manual [elections]. If we revert to manual, you won’t see me in the Commission, your Honor,” Lim told lawmakers.
 
Caloocan City Rep. Edgar Erice is also hopeful that the country will not return to manual elections. 
 
“I hope [we don’t return to manual voting] but I think there’s something fishy going on with the way the Comelec BAC is handling the bidding,” he said.
 
Under the Comelec’s alternative plan, new voting machines will be leased through a negotiated procurement if the second round of bidding fails.
 
And in the event that option still falls through, Lim said the poll body is considering the use of the 81,000 existing PCOS machines for the entire country. The worst-case option, however, will result in long lines forming at voting areas since more voters will be clustered in a precinct.
 
“In 2013, we had a ratio of 1,000 [voters] to 1 [PCOS machine]. We could to as high as 1,200 or 1,400 per clustered precinct under the worst-case scenario,” he said.
 
Panel chair Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro has ordered all Comelec commissioners and BAC members to attend the second hearing scheduled on Thursday to shed light on issues surrounding the poll body’s preparation for the upcoming elections.  — ELR, GMA News