DICT Searching for AES Provider via Tech Fair for Smartmatic Replacement

Since 2010 the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has been using Smartmatic and its vote-counting machines for the conduct of the automated election system (AES) in the Philippines. For the  law authorizes the poll body through Republic Act No. 9369 (which amended R.A. No. 8436) to implement AES for the May 11, 1998 national and local elections, and in coming national and local elections from then on.

Smartmatic was the choice provider for AES through bidding. But every election controversies hounded the aftermath of political exercises.

In the 2019 mid-term elections the same controversies reared its ugly head. Until President Rodrigo R. Duterte decided it was enough of Smartmatic.

So, the search is on!

By EDD K. USMAN, SDN; Twitter @edd1819; Instagram @bluestar0910; Facebook: SDN — Science, Digital & Current News

(SDN) — WHAT is the best system for the conduct of automated election for the Philippines?

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) now headed by newly-assumed Secretary Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan is exploring the ways and means of a better and, perhaps, more credible, if not unassailable, conduct of political exercises in the country.

This is development comes in the wake of President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s seeming frustrations with AES using the old-time method provided by Smartmatic.

He made the statement during his visit to Japan in mid-2019.

“I would like to advise Comelec (Commission on Elections) now — hindi ko na lang hintayin (I will not wait anymore) — dispose of that Smartmatic and look for a new one that is free of fraud,” the President blurted as spoke on May 30 before the Filipino community in Japan.

It can be recalled that Smartmatic had been the provider for the country’s AES since 2010, but every election controversies had erupted — among them candidates and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) questioning and doubting the results.


DICT Secretary Gringo Honasan. (Photo: DICT)

The President told his audience that he was supposed to make statement about Smartmatic in his coming State of the Nation Address on July 22, but decided to tell Comelec after a woman in the audience broke protocol and approached with a question about Comelec’s continued use of Smartmatic saddled with hundreds of malfunctioning vote counting machines, the latest during the 2019 elections.

So, on July 15, the DICT conducted the tech fair, inviting concerned companies in the search for new ideas and methodologies that could be used for the 2022 National and Local Elections (NLE), which will also be leveraging AES, as it is the law.

DICT staged the forum and exhibit anchored on the “overriding principle” of “One Citizen, One Vote, One Count,” that highlighted the need to improve transparency and ensure every vote is counted through a new and improved AES that can be tapped for the NLE in 2022.

“This tech fair is a platform for us stakeholders to address inquiries and concerns, to put forward suggestions for improvement, and to jump-start a comprehensive approach to the alternative AES,” said Honasan, a former senator.

DICT said in an email to SDN — Science and Digital News that the exhibit featured various technology providers such as Avant-Garde ICT Inc., Smartmatic Philippines Inc., Indra Philippines Inc., VOATZ and Bapplware Technologies Inc.


DICT Undersecretary Eliser M. Rio, Jr. (Photo: DICT)

The Comelec and the citizen-arm NAMFREL (National Movement for Free Elections) also participated in the said event.

Various AES providers show capabilities

Former DICT acting secretary now Undersecretary Eliseo Rio, Jr., presented DICT’s “Vote Tallying Machines (VTM)” concept that merges new and traditional processes, using manual counting and a unique QR code to faithfully reflect the voting results.

Through Optical Mark Recognition (OMR), the machine will capture, process, and display a digital ballot image on a screen for visual confirmation of the voter. Election inspectors will help facilitate the validation and monitor discrepancies.  The VTM will also display the running total tally.

DICT said the VTM concept will improve the transparency of vote appreciation at the precinct level, while retaining the previous transmission process. Moreover, this system will shorten the voting time and simplify the workflow.

Other proposed concepts featured various methodologies that incorporated the use of blockchain technology, two-factor authentication solutions, encryption security systems, among others.

The AES concepts aimed to promote accuracy of results and decrease vulnerability to cheating. Another key focus was eliminating logistical concerns in transmission and tallying, such as addressing device failure issues.

Each presenter was given an opportunity to demonstrate their concept and prototype. Similarly, the audience were given the chance to input comments and suggestions regarding the AES presented.

DICT is the chair of the Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) and will provide recommendations to the poll body on the appropriate technology to be used for the 2022 NLE​.​

Filipinos are certainly hopeful the DICT can find a much reliable AES provider with less, if not totally without, controversy during and after every political exercise in the country. (SDN/DICT)

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