Upon bidder's nudge, Comelec raises contract price for 10,000 vote counting machines by 44%

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 12) — The Commission on Elections gave in to the call of a private bidder and raised the maximum contract price for its plan to rent an additional 10,000 vote counting machines (VCMs) to be used in 2022.

From a budget ceiling of ₱60,050.35 per machine, which includes one secure digital or SD card and a backup or wormable memory card, the poll body is now willing to pay ₱86,402.41 per set.

The maximum bid is given a 44% increase to ₱864.02 million from ₱600.5 million.

The higher contract price came after a failed bidding in September. Only SMMT-TIM 2016, Inc. or Smartmatic –– which has supplied the VCMs and the technology for automated elections since 2010 –– was the lone firm interested in the deal. However, the company did not submit a formal bid proposal during the September 9 deadline saying Comelec’s offer was too cheap.

RELATED: Comelec panel defends considering Smartmatic in bidding for poll materials

In appealing for a higher price, Smartmatic cited a global shortage in electronic parts which drove up prices by 20-25% as well as a sharp rise in logistics cost over the past year of the pandemic. Smartmatic added that it can still deliver the voting equipment on time if the contract price is increased in a subsequent public bidding.

Bids must be submitted on Nov. 8 according to Comelec’s second invitation to bid, in line with Commissioner Marlon Casquejo’s target to restart the procurement process for more voting machines next month.

The additional machines are needed to reduce the number of voters to 800 per precinct, coming from 1,000 in the 2019 midterm polls. Poll officials earlier said this is crucial for the implementation of physical distancing amid the pandemic. Lawmakers want the number reduced further to 600 per precinct, but Comelec said they will need more funds to rent additional machines and hire even more electoral boards.

The first batch of 1,000 VCMs must be delivered in January 2022, followed by 4,000 units by end-February and the remainder by March 15 –– about two months away from voting day.

Smartmatic previously won the deal to refurbish the 97,345 VCMs which Comelec currently owns as well as the provision of the software for the automated elections for about ₱1 billion.

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

Meanwhile, the poll body is looking to complete other purchases of election paraphernalia in the next two weeks. These include the acquisition of 48,782 ballot boxes for a maximum price of ₱200.78 million (₱4,115.90 per piece), 1.4 million ballot secrecy folders for ₱16.24 million (₱11.70 each), and the printing of election day computerized voters lists for ₱5.37 million.