Comelec prepares for 2010 elections automation, mulls hybrid technology

By Carmela Fonbuena

With the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) elections out of the way, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) chair Jose Melo said the polling body is now "totally focused" on the automation of the coming 2010 presidential elections.

Less than two years away, Melo said "we have to keep moving. If we rest, we will lose the momentum from the successful ARMM automated elections. We were able to proclaim the winner in two days. If we can do it faster in 2010 and proclaim the president in one day, it will be better," he told

Melo issued at least three orders during Wednesday’s Comelec en banc to prepare for the 2010 elections. One, he asked for the preparation of elections calendar for 2010. "I asked them to do it as soon as possible. There are a lot of things to be done. We still have to bid [the automation project] and decide," Melo said.

Two, he assigned poll commissioner Leonardo Leonida to be in charge of cleansing the voters’ list. "I still don’t know how it will work. Commissioner Leonida will report to us," Melo said.

The Comelec is mulling the use of biometrix technology, which will supposedly purge the voters’ list of flying voters or multiply registrants. With biometrix, poll officials will be able to cross match the signatures, photographs, and fingerprints of voters.

Three, he scheduled a meeting with the Advisory Council on Poll Automation on Tuesday next week. The advisory council was in charge of the technical aspect of the ARMM automated elections.

While the council is expected to complete its assessment on the machines used in the ARMM elections in October, Melo said it’s better to start discussing with them this early about possible technologies that will be used in 2010.

The council's report due in October will also be submitted to Malacanang and Congress.

DRE, OMR hybrid in 2010?
A hybrid of the Direct Recording Equipment (DRE) and Optical Mark Reader (OMR) technologies were used in the ARMM elections. With DRE, the election is fully automated from voting, counting, and canvassing. With OMR, only the counting and canvassing are automated.

While the same hybrid is mulled for the 2010 presidential elections, Advisory Council for Poll Automation president Ray Roxas Chua told reporters after the ARMM polls that Comelec is still open to other technologies for 2010. Chua is the head of Malacanang’s Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT).

"When we look at the 2010 elections, we will once again look at all possible technologies. We will do procurement from the very beginning. Definitely, OMR and DRE will be strongly considered," he said.

Melo depends on the advisory council on technical matters. "It’s up to the advisory council to tell us. They will study the glitches. Of course, the cost is a big factor."

Early bidding
On Melo’s timeline, invitations to bid for the automation project should be given out December this year if not earlier. "At the latest on January 2009, we would be giving out our invitations to bid to the providers," he said.

"By the first quarter of 2009, we shall be making our decision on whom we shall get as providers. At the latest, March of 2009. We will begin training again, etc.," he added.

"We have to consider a lot of factors," said Chua. "It will not be economically feasible to do 100 percent DRE roll out for 2010. One of the things we’re really looking for in [the ARMM polls] is how the two systems can work together."

Although quicker, the DRE technology is estimated four or five times more expensive than OMR. Comelec will depend on the budget that Congress will give them.

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