Up to 1,000 voters may share a precinct without additional voting machines - Comelec

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 10) — Voting centers for the May 2022 polls could be just as crowded as they were three years ago unless the Commission on Elections secures additional vote counting machines (VCMs).

As much as 1,000 voters could be assigned per precinct if the poll body’s plan to rent 10,000 additional machines would not push through, Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas told members of the House Committee on Appropriations on Friday.

No company took part in the first bidding on Thursday. Smartmatic was the only interested firm but backed out saying the Comelec’s offer of ₱60,050.35 per unit is too cheap.

RELATED: Comelec declares failed bidding for additional 10,000 vote counting machines for 2022 polls

"Titingnan natin kung mag-proceed po kami sa second bidding, pero kung hindi po, mag-stick po kami sa 97,000 (VCMs). Ang mangyayari, 1,000 per clustered precinct po tayo but titingnan namin 'yung takbo ng bidding process. Sana madagdagan po kami ng makina para at least mapapaba po natin sa 800 (voters per precinct)," Abas told lawmakers.

[Translation: We'll see if we will proceed with a second bidding, if not we will stick with the 97,000 (VCMs). What will happen is we'll have 1,000 per clustered precinct, but we'll monitor developments in the bidding process. I hope we can get more machines so we can bring down the number to 800 voters per precinct.]

Comelec set a maximum contract price of ₱600.5 million for the lease of 10,000 optical mark reader or optical scan system machines for voting precincts, 10,000 main SD Cards, and another 10,000 wormable SD cards. Smartmatic wants a higher contract price, citing rising costs of electronic parts and logistics expenses.

ACT Teachers Party-List Rep. France Castro expressed fear that next year's polls could be a COVID-19 super spreader. "Medyo malaki 'yung 800 considering na pandemic time at hahaba 'yung panahon ng pagsisilbi ng teachers [800 is huge considering it's a pandemic time, and teachers will also have to serve longer hours]," she said.

Comelec's draft voting day guidelines allow only five voters at a time inside the classroom or polling precinct, which is expected to leave long lines of people waiting for their turn.

Members of the House body asked Comelec if they can cut the number of voters per precinct to 600, but the poll body said it would entail bigger expenses.

Atty. Maria Lea Alarkon of Comelec's Finance Services Department said the poll body will need about ₱23.9 billion if it adds more voting machines to create new precincts, and nearly ₱19.7 billion for the proposed two-day election.

However, Comelec is only given some ₱12.57 billion for the conduct of the presidential and local elections under the proposed 2022 national budget. That's a ₱7 billion cut from the commission's request, which reduced funds for medical supplies and COVID-19 disinfection materials, as well as benefits for poll workers.

Abas said they can grant a ₱2,000 increase across the board for support staff and members of the election boards –– lower than what the Department of Education proposed but is the first increase in the honorarium since 2016.

Comelec's plan involves a 12-hour voting period from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. to hopefully distribute the number of voters showing up at precincts at a time. This may be extended to accommodate those still waiting in line to cast their ballots.

Abas added that overtime pay may be given to poll workers, should voting hours extend but noted that the current budget allotment does not provide for a COVID-19 hazard pay for teachers, who will be exposed to thousands of voters.