If the Philippines does deploy election automation in 2010 as planned, it will be ahead of most developing countries, according to technology vendor Smartmatic.
Smartmatic, a multinational firm based in Holland, is among a few vendors looking to clinch a contract with the government to supply machines for the 2010 presidential elections.
The company was also one of two vendors that supplied automation machines used during the ARMM (Autonomous Region Muslim Mindanao) last October.
In particular, the Commission on Elections leased more than 2,000 direct recording electronic (DRE) machines from Smartmatic used during the ARMM elections.
DRE uses preconfigured "touch screens." It is touted to yield the fastest results. The Comelec spent about P188 million for these machines including training, according to Smartmatic.
In Asia, only India has used DRE machines to automate elections, according to Cesar Flores, the company's international sales director.
In a press briefing, Smartmatic demonstrated how DRE technology works.
"We still do not see that many countries investing in (election) technology to automate their elections," Flores said in an interview with INQUIRER.net.
"We believe the Philippines – Comelec, Congress and all the political forces --have expressed real interest in changing the system and that's very unique," he added.
This will all depend, though, if Congress approves the P11.9 billion budget the Comelec is asking to automate next year's national elections.
Comelec is expecting Congress to ratify the budget by end of March or early April.
The electoral agency is also expected to start the bidding process by this time.
Bob Cook, Smartmatic worldwide sales president, said this should give Smartmatic enough time to deploy its machines, if it does seal the contract.
"If by May or June, Congress still hasn't ratified (the budget), Comelec may have to rethink the amount of automation it plans to do. If it goes beyond that (time), there will probably be an issue," Cook said.
Also, a Comelec advisory council--created to assess different technologies to be deployed--has proposed that DRE be used along with less expensive optical mark reader (OMR) equipment.
Smartmatic also provides these other technologies although it is highly likely that Comelec will award contracts to multiple vendors.
"Because of geographical reasons and distribution of voters in precincts we believe a mix (of technologies) is best for the Philippines," Flores said. "It's not wise to install DRE in remote villages with only a handful of voters."
"The important thing to consider is how compatible these technologies are with the areas Comelec intends to automate," he said.
By Lawrence Casiraya