ARMM Polls Will Pilot-Test High-Tech Balloting

THE upcoming August-11 election in Muslim region is seen as a “big test” if the country is ready for an automated election in time for the 2010 national polls, Commission on Election (Comelec) chairman Jose A.R. Melo has said.

“This ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) election is very important. If we succeed here, and I believe we will succeed, then we can proceed to the 2010 election. It will be a big test. Everything we do now or we shall do here in ARMM election, will be geared towards the 2010 [national] elections,” he said during a regional command conference with military and police officials of the Muslim region.

At least two technologies will be used in the ARMM elections these are the: direct recording electronic (DRE) technology and the optical mark-reader (OMR).

He said at least five days before the election the machine will be in place.

“The police would like the machines to arrive not more than three days before the election, so that they will not have so much security problem. In so far the COMELEC is concern; we are ready to have the machines to be in placed five days before the election,” he said.

When asked if the ARMM election is an experiment, Melo said: “In a sense, yes, especially with regards to the machines.”

Jose M. Tolentino, Jr., executive director and the project manager of the COMELEC ARMM Automation Project told PeaceWorks that at least 3,002 of DRE and about 308 units of OMR will be set up in the different precincts within the Muslim region.

“The ratio is that there will be one DRE for every 90 voters, while another one OMR for every 10,000 voters,” he said.

Melo said the COMELEC allotted P600 million for the two machines.

Venezuelan firm Smartmatic with Strategic Alliance Holdings, Inc. will use the DRE platform through touch screen voting in Maguindanao. American firm Avanti International Technologies, Inc. will use the OMR where ballots will be read by high-speed scanners for Lanao del Sur, Shariff Kabunsuan, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

Tolentino clarified that the machines are just being leased

“It’s very easy to use. You don’t have to write the names of the candidates, all you have to do is to press the faces of the candidates in the machines, or shade it,” Melo said, adding that “the counting will be fast. The usual shenanigans going in the counting will be eliminated because the results will be transmitted simultaneously from the municipalities, provinces, regional centers, and to Manila.”

He said probably less than 24 hours the poll body will already know the results, “but we cannot proclaim [the winners] yet. If anything goes on wrong below, we still have the figures up.”

“We have a lot of trials for these machines. We will see how they will work in the field,” Melo said.

“We are using two types of machines because the purpose of the Republic Act 9369 or the new law on automation is to determine the most suitable technology for Philippine election,” said Tolentino.

“The systems we are using have actually been used in other countries, such as United States. And we are 100% sure of the result. The systems have been proven,” he added.

According to him, teachers in the Muslim region will undergo trainings for the machines in the middle of this month.

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