Foreign tech companies compete for Philippines’ remote elections

Philippine elections voting
Ballot box with Filipino flag. Image by natatravel | Bigstockphoto

As COVID-19 continues to ravage the country, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) is considering several options for the upcoming May 2022 elections.

London-based Smartmatic, which has bagged the elections deal since 2010, will remain the country’s tech provider for next year’s polls. Last week, it turned over the final elections software to COMELEC, which will lead a local source code review beginning October.

Whether this means people can vote online remains to be seen, especially as COMELEC needs congressional approval for alternatives to in-person ballot casting. COMELEC recently ruled out online voting for seafarers, stating that this may be only possible in future elections beyond 2022.

“Mail voting is a solution that is being proposed. There’s legislation pending for it, but also other means of voting are being considered, for instance, absentee voting partly for senior citizens and PWDs (persons with disabilities). All of these are proceedings on the legislative front,” said James Jimenez, COMELEC spokesperson.

COMELEC is, at the same time, eyeing the 2025 polls as the earliest that they can fully deploy remote internet technologies. This is part of the agency’s forward-looking strategy to serve the country’s 100 million population, including a growing number of seafarers and overseas workers.

So far, tech companies Voatz, Smartmatic, and Indra have pitched to partner with COMELEC for 2025 and beyond.

This month, COMELEC begun test runs on these platforms with a select number of individuals. The test runs helped start assessments on platform features to identify the best platform for the average Filipino voter.

Voatz, a US-based for-profit company, has leveraged blockchain technology in over 70 elections around the world. Smartmatic, meanwhile, utilizes its Trust Innovation Verifiability Integrity (TIVI) platform, which, unlike Voatz, is exclusively web-based.

Indra, the last company to run a mock election in September, has carried out innovative elections technologies in Europe. Based on the test runs, its process was considered most rigorous compared to the other two. Because the registration period for Indra’s test run lasted five days, from September 20 to 24, people who did not finish the onboarding procedure could not participate in the mock polls on September 25 to 27.  Ultimately, for COMELEC, the move to partner with a reputable tech company aligns with the government’s drive to lead tech-based election administration in the long run. For now, however, the country’s elections agency needs over one year to set up online voting locally and abroad.

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