Any takers for used poll counting machines?
Almost 180,000 of them are up for grabs, according to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) which is offering the devices to other government agencies willing to repurpose them.
“We are inviting other agencies, like DepEd (Department of Education), PRC (Professional Regulation Commission) or others, in the hopes that their savvy IT personnel could think of ways these machines could be used again,” Comelec Chair George Garcia said on Friday.
Garcia was referring to two types of machines—precinct count optical scanners (PCOS) and vote-counting machines (VCMs)—both of which were provided by Smartmatic Corp.
Some 80,000 PCOS units used in the 2010 and 2013 elections, and about 97,000 VCMs used in the 2016, 2019 and 2022 polls have been kept in the Comelec warehouse in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.
The poll body chief suggested using the old election machines possibly for checking school test papers or tabulating scores.
“We can’t use them anymore, and they’re hard to dispatch … so we’re thinking, maybe they can be useful in schools or for other uses. We are open (to that) rather than just let them go to waste,” Garcia told reporters.
He raised these options as he noted that the old VCMs had already become “dangerous to use” after some of the machines malfunctioned when tested in three villages for the Oct. 30 barangay and youth council elections. “Some overheated, some had a paper jam. But others just stopped functioning altogether,” he said. “That’s why we had the pilot testing to show that they are already inaccurate and ineffective.”
The government spent at least P7.2 billion for the lease of the PCOS machines, and another P2.2 billion for the VCMs alone in 2016. The poll body had also funded their refurbishment.
As the Comelec looks for ways to dispose of the old machines, its transition to a new automated poll system called FASTrAC is under way.
Only three companies, including Smartmatic, have so far purchased bidding documents for the lease of FASTrAC, or “Full Automation system with Transparency Audit/Count), which will be used in the 2025 polls.
“We hope to receive more than five [bidders] to participate. It’s better for the commission if we have more choices, especially now that there are a lot of new technologies when it comes to election machines,” Garcia said.
Based on a Comelec bulletin, the winning bidder for the P18.8-billion contract should be able to provide the following: 110,000 automated counting machines, 104,345 ballot boxes, ballot papers for verification, 2,200 “consolidated canvassing system server laptop/printer (and peripherals) and software” for cities, municipalities and regions.
Garcia said poll watchdogs had recommended the use of barcodes that can just be scanned, as well as screens that could show photos of ballots once they are placed in the boxes.
The poll body plans to open the bid offers for the new machines on Nov. 28 to determine which company would qualify, he said. Procurement for the new polling system began early this month despite a pending disqualification case lodged against Smartmatic.
The Truth and Transparency Trio (TNTrio), a group led by former Information and Communications Technology Secretary Eliseo Rio Jr., filed three petitions this year questioning the eligibility of UK-based Smartmatic to again become a systems provider in the next elections.
According to Garcia, the Comelec sitting en banc may hand down its decision on the petitions by next week.