In 2010, the Philippines became the first Asian country to outsource the implementation of a National Election. Four years later, authorities are looking to further embrace technology by calling for bidding processes to select electoral technology and services providers.
Recently, the Philippine Commission on Elections (COMELEC) decided to acquire 23,000 new Optical Mark Reader (OMR) machines to process manually filled ballots in the 2016 General Elections. The OMR machines would add to the existing 82,200 Precinct-based Counting Optical Scanners (PCOS) purchased by the elections commission that were used both with great success in 2010 and 2013.
Authorities are expecting to award this new P2.5 billion contract in February 2015. To such purpose, they have devised a two-stage bidding process. Initially, five firms had shown interest, yet only Indra Sistemas and Smartmatic-TIM formally submitted proposals. On Monday, December 15, both were declared eligible to participate in the second round.
Although the Spanish-based company has not participated in any of the recent elections in this Asian archipelago, it does have some bidding experience for such projects. In 2009, Indra’s bid to provide the technology for the 2010 General Elections was 35% higher than the approved budget, a main reason for its disqualification. The firm’s largest stakeholder is the Spanish government, through Sociedad Estatal de Participaciones Industriales (S.E.P.I.) – with 20.14%. Its focus on defense and surveillance technology has sparked controversy in the country, as it is viewed by some as a sort of Conquistador 2.0.
Smartmatic has already participated in previous Filipino elections. During the 2010 General Elections and the 2013 Midterm Elections, the company provided technology and services. Although the elections were hailed as a success by authorities and some observation missions, they’ve been surrounded by controversies. From afar, it is hard to distinguish the facts from the fiction in a country so prone to astroturf organizations, which anonymously spread rumors and fake allegations.
Also, looking ahead, authorities are considering on a Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machine to be tested. Up until now, the voting method has stayed manual, leaving the bulk of the technology only to handle the processes of counting, transmitting and consolidating results. Smartmatic and Scytl were the two companies bidding for full automation, but Scytl was unanimously declared ineligible by the Comelec Bids and Awards Committee (BAC), due to deficiencies in its eligibility documents and initial technical proposal.