Vote counting in the Philippines

In the Philippines, votes are counted electronically since 2010. Starting with the 2010 general elections voters have to shade an oval preceding the candidate's name on their paper ballot, and have their ballot registered with an Optical mark recognition (OMR) machine. While the machine prints a voting receipt, it collects the vote count electronically to be eventually transmitted to the Municipal Board of Canvassers.

Following massive problems with the machines in the 2010 and 2013 elections, the Philippine Commission on Elections leased 94,000 new OMR machines from London-based company Smartmatic, while the old ones would be refurbished for the 2019 elections. The deployment of 92,509 vote counting machines constituted the largest of its kind worldwide, as other countries using technology to automate voting, such as Brazil and India employ electronic voting systems instead of digitizing of voter-marked ballots.[1]

Use of voting machines in general elections

Philippine general election, 2010

The Philippines began using technology to streamline vote counting in 2010. The introduction of semi-automatic ballot-counting technology used in the general election however suffered from a number of technical and procedural problems. Civil society group CenPEG and minor party All Filipino Democratic Movement (KAAKBAY), amongst others, questioned the constitutionality of the election and its safety against electoral fraud or cheating.[2][3]

Philippine general election, 2013

In spite of the problems experienced with counting machines in 2010, the same technology was used in the subsequent 2013 mid-term election where approximately 760 million votes were cast by some 50 million voters. This time, a quarter of all machines experienced problems in transmitting the results. According to poll watchdog AES Watch, up to 8.6 million votes had been affected, or possibly disenfranchised,[4] significantly contributing to AES Watch's assessment of the 2013 elections being "a technology and political disaster,"[5] and fueling speculations of "vote rigging."[6]

Philippine general election, 2016

For the 2016 general elections, the Commission on Elections leased 94,000 new Optical mark recognition (OMR) machines from London-based electronic voting technology company Smartmatic, while the old ones would be refurbished for the 2019 elections, in a contract totalling 7.9 billion pesos.[7]

The Commission unanimously voted to disallow the issuance of voting receipt to voters, although they allowed on-screen verification for 15 seconds.[8] It also shelved its original plans for conduct the balloting in shopping malls, while allowing some limited replacement ballots for voters whose original ballot is rejected by the vote counting machine.[9]


In April 2015, the Supreme Court of the Philippines had invalidated the 300 million-peso contract between the Commission on Elections and Smartmatic-TIM for diagnostics and repair of the 80,000 Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines in April 2015, ruling that the commission "failed to justify its resort to direct contracting."[10]

Restarting the process, in June 2015, the commission conducted a mock election using a "hybrid" system of manual counting and electronic transmission of results. Former elections commissioner Gus Lagman argued in favor of the hybrid system, referring to its reliability against manipulation, as opposed to full automation, and the lower price.[11] Senator Francis Escudero disapproved of the use of the hybrid system, saying "it brings back memories of the Hello Garci controversy".[12]

Only a few days later, the Commission informed the House of Representatives Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms that they had decided not to use the hybrid system. They also limited their options to either refurbishing 80,000 counting machines and leasing 23,000 more, or leasing all machines.[13] In the meantime, the Commission had overturned its self-imposed disqualification of Smartmatic from bidding on counting machines.[14] On a committee hearing held in late July, Elections chairman Andres D. Bautista told lawmakers that the commission had decided to award Smartmatic-TIM a 1.7 billion peso contract to lease 23,000 OMR counting machines.[15] Days later, the commission declared the bidding for the refurbishment of 80,000 machines a failure, after two of the three bidders backed out, stating the project would be unfeasible at the commission's tight schedule, while the third bidder was disqualified.[16]

On August 13, the commission agreed to lease 94,000 new OMR machines from Smartmatic, while the old machines used in 2010 and 2013 would be refurbished for the 2019 elections, in a contract totalling 7.9 billion pesos.[7] Smartmatic also won a 500 million pesos contract for electronic results transmission services.[17]

Security provisions

Having received military intelligence reports in July that China might sabotage the elections, in September 2015 the commission sought the production of the voting machines be transferred from China to Taiwan. While manufacturer Smartmatic acquiesced to the request, China denied any sabotage plans, calling it "sheer fabrication."[18]

The commission partnered with De La Salle University to conduct the source code review, that was said to be more comprehensive than the 2010 and 2013 reviews, which were done just a month and four days ahead of the election, respectively.[19]

The warehouse of the voting machines and the paper bins was moved to the warehouse of bus company Jam Liner in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. The commission paid 69 million pesos for renting the warehouse.[20]


  1. "Smartmatic: PH now world reference point for automated elections". Philippine Daily Inquirer. May 11, 2016. Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  2. CenPEG (2010). "Foreign Observers Challenge Election Legitimacy". Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  3. Kaakbay Party-List (6 October 2010). "Critique of the May 2010 automated polls". The Daily Tribune. Archived from the original on 13 June 2010.
  4. Santos, Matikas (May 23, 2013). "18,000 PCOS machines suffered transmission woes, says poll chief". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved May 26, 2013.
  5. Dinglasan, Rouchelle D. (May 18, 2013). "Poll watchdog calls 2013 elections a 'technology and political disaster'". GMA News Online. GMA News and Current Affairs. Retrieved May 26, 2013.
  6. Aning, Jerome (May 29, 2013). "Comelec failed to review source code, says poll watchdog". Philippine Daily Inquirer, Inc. Retrieved May 26, 2013.
  7. 1 2 Gotinga, JC (August 14, 2015). "Comelec to lease 94,000 new machines for 2016 elections". CNN Philippines. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  8. Dioquino, Rose-An Jessica (March 4, 2016). "Comelec formalizes unanimous stand versus ballot receipts". GMA News Online. Retrieved March 5, 2016.
  9. Jaymalin, Mayen (April 28, 2016). "Comelec aborts mall voting plan". The Philippine Star. Retrieved May 7, 2016.
  10. Marueñas, Mark (April 21, 2015). "SC voids Comelec deal for PCOS repair, diagnostics". GMA News. Retrieved April 25, 2015.
  11. Remitio, Rex (June 27, 2015). "Comelec holds mock elections, tests hybrid system". CNN Philippines. Retrieved July 7, 2015.
  12. Reyes, Ernie (July 5, 2015). "Chiz asks Comelec: Drop hybrid poll, go for full automation". Retrieved July 7, 2015.
  13. Diaz, Jess (July 10, 2015). "Comelec junks hybrid poll option for full automation". The Philippine Star. Retrieved July 10, 2015.
  14. Crisostomo, Sheila (July 1, 2015). "Comelec reverses ruling disqualifying Smartmatic". The Philippine Star. Retrieved July 7, 2015.
  15. Diaz, Jess (July 30, 2015). "Comelec: Smartmatic bags P1.7-B PCOS deal". The Philippine Star. Retrieved July 30, 2015.
  16. Crisostomo, Shiela (August 2, 2015). "Bidding failure declared anew for PCOS upgrade". The Philippine Star. Retrieved August 2, 2015.
  17. "Comelec: Intel shows China may sabotage 2016 polls". GMA News. November 26, 2015. Retrieved November 27, 2015.
  18. Romero, Paolo (September 17, 2015). "Comelec: Intel shows China may sabotage 2016 polls". The Philippine Star. Retrieved October 8, 2015.
  19. Hegina, Aries Joseph (August 10, 2015). "Comelec woos public's trust in holding source code review months ahead of polls". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved August 10, 2015.
  20. Gotinga, JC (January 29, 2016). "LOOK: Laguna warehouse of vote counting machines". CNN Philippines. Retrieved February 1, 2016.
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