Oddly enough, the Philippines finally had its taste of automated elections in one of the most ‘troubled” areas in Mindanao, the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao or ARMM.

Amid heavy security by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the first automated elections drawn 84% voters turnout, more than twice of the expected 30-40% based on previous elections. The test run of the election automation machines saw action with an added constraint – disruptions due to war. During the elections, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) launched an attack on various areas and settlements including bombing of telecommunication lines, cell site towers and bridges.

There were two types of these election automation machines deployed: the Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) and Optical Mark Reader (OMR). Obviously, the former is better as voters are provided with a Voting Pad where the photos of candidates can be selected by pressing on the desired picture. Once the vote is final, a receipt is generated after pressing ‘BOTO‘. The receipt is kept by the Board of Election Inspectors just in case there are complaints raised. However, DRE Technology can only be deployed in areas where communications is available and reliable.

On the other hand, OMR (Optical Mark Reader) Technology uses a specially scanned paper ballot where voters have to shade the oval which corresponds to their candidate of choice using a pencil. The downside of this is there’s a probability that a ballot can be rejected if the OMR Scan machine cannot read the markings.

The Direct Recording Electronic votes can be transmitted electronically to the Counting Centers, while the OMR votes have to be brought in physically to these Counting Centers for processing. So if the MILF are bombing communication towers and bridges, this proved to be a challenge.

Nonetheless, results are now processed faster, in about 36 hours and more than 90% of votes are counted. With these, we hope we see a new and clean elections come 2010. I believe the pilot run is more or less successful, considering the number of constraints these machines were subjected to. One notable attempt to play with the OMR machine was one candidate inserting some photocopies of OMR ballots – but were eventually rejected. LOL. So will we finally bid farewell to DagDag Bawas experts and PHD holders?

Now one big question remains: Will there be elections by 2010? Bummer!