Comelec on track to repair vote-counting machines by November, eyes new units for 2025

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Sta. Rosa, Laguna (CNN Philippines, September 14) — Some 97,345 vote-counting machines (VCMs) will be "good as new" when these are used for the May 2022 polls, the Commission on Elections said on Tuesday.

The VCMs are being cleaned, while parts and batteries are upgraded eight months ahead of the presidential elections.

Comelec Commissioner Marlon Casquejo said new VCMs should still be considered in succeeding polls.

"Sana ito na 'yung last kasi it's a nine-year-old machine this coming 2022, although we refurbished it. Siguro after 2022, may bagong technology na tayo for the conduct of elections, baka meron na tayong internet voting or DRE, direct-recording electronic (voting machine)," Casquejo said in a press briefing at the Comelec warehouse in Laguna.

[Translation: I hope this will be the last time we will use this because it’s a nine-year-old machine this coming 2022, although we refurbished it. Maybe after 2022, we would have a new technology already for the conduct of elections, maybe we would have internet voting or DRE, direct-recording electronic voting machine.]

READ: Trial online voting results 'promising’ despite connectivity issues – Comelec

The poll body spent about ₱1 billion to refurbish parts and upgrade the VCM software, against an initial plan to buy new machines for ₱12 billion.

Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas said 36,239 or about one-third of existing VCMs have cleared the refurbishment process ahead of the November deadline. Casquejo noted that 5,000 units were found to be defective.

Smartmatic, which sold the machines to Comelec, is in charge of the repairs being done in the compound. It takes half an hour to complete the process, from dusting, inspecting the parts, replacement of batteries to initial test runs.

Malfunctioning units are assessed for further repairs, while those that pass the diagnostic test are repacked in a new box and returned to the main warehouse.

The poll body said it is still pursuing the plan to rent 10,000 more VCMs to decongest polling precincts. The first bidding failed last week because there were no takers as companies found Comelec's maximum price too cheap.

"We will proceed with the second bidding and we will try to increase the ABC (approved budget contract) kasi kakayanin pa naman ng budget namin (because our budget can still accommodate this)," Casquejo added, noting a November target for the next bidding.

The additional VCMs must be delivered by January or February to give Comelec time to equip the machines with an automated election software. If this does not push through, Comelec will be forced to assign 1,000 voters per machine and precinct.

The poll body also clarified that the older Precinct Count Optical Scanner or PCOS machines cannot be repurposed anymore due to its outdated components.

The source code review to check the integrity of the automated election system platform has been pushed back to October due to existing quarantine restrictions. Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said preparations are being made for a virtual source code audit if strict lockdowns proceed.