“Clearly, automation does not magically solve the issues perpetually hounding the conduct of the elections in the country. Instead, the AES even gives more room for doubt and electoral fraud.” – Kabataan Party-list
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – The election campaign is already heating up but many groups expressed fears that the votes may not be accurately counted. Openings for massive cheating seem to still abound and the people remain to have little recourse in guarding their votes once their ballots are fed into the multi-million peso PCOS machines.
“Unlike what Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes wants the public to believe, there is indeed cause for alarm with regard to the upcoming automated polls,” said Kabataan Partylist President Terry Ridon in a statement. His group is urging the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to directly confront problems besetting PCOS machines and other AES-related issues, instead of “sidestepping issues hounding the automated election system (AES).”
Yesterday, Brillantes, chairman of Comelec, posted in his Twitter account: “The continued assertion of falsehood by AES Watch, CENPEG et al aims nothing but to sow public mistrust and sabotage the upcoming elections.”
Days before that, Brillantes had been all over the media claiming he is already tired of critics’ repeated charges against the Comelec’s preparations and that the Comelec had supposedly addressed much of these. But according to these critics, the most crucial problems besetting the automated election system (AES) are still there, and these have even gotten worse compared to when it was first used in the country in 2010 elections.
Last 2010 election, watchdog AES Watch gave the system a grade of 1.40, or in danger; for 2013 elections, it graded it 0.29— a failure.
“They had three years since May 2010 to do some fixing and reforming but they just repeated the same mistakes that we saw in 2010,” said Bobby M. Tuazon, co-convener of AES Watch and director for policy studies of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG).
Comelec’s call of faith in election prep ‘baseless’
Sixto Brillantes said the Comelec has adopted improvements and corrected deficiencies in the system for the 2013 elections. But these are empty placatory statements to election watchdogs who have raised the following significant issues which, until now, they say, the Comelec has not adequately addressed:
– ‘Pirated’ software for PCOS machines
– Unfixed bugs in PCOS machines
– Ballot design-CF cards data mismatch
– The disabling of voter verification system in PCOS machines
– The lack of digital precautions against election return tampering (e.g. digital signing)
– Errors in transmission programs
– The issue of signal jammers or the remote manipulation of election result transmission
– Lack of clear mechanisms for election protests
– Hardware problems including faulty and damaged machines
For these, the AES Watch has given the COMELEC’s preparations for the 2013 elections a failing mark. Instead of responding by way of addressing the problems, Comelec chairman used “gutter language” against the election watchdog. (See: Use facts not gutter language, Brillantes told)
The automated election system has been touted to bar cheating because of the speed of its counting. But the way the machines expected to count it are being prepared by the Comelec, it appears it could only speed up cheating and disenfranchisement, and just as easily hide the hocus-pocus on votes.
“Clearly, automation does not magically solve the issues perpetually hounding the conduct of the elections in the country. Instead, the AES even gives more room for doubt and electoral fraud,” Ridon said.
“Instead of answering pertinent issues raised by AES Watch, CENPEG and Kontradaya, all Brillantes have to offer are baseless accusations of sabotage. These election watchdogs are only raising valid issues against the AES with the aim of improving the integrity of the upcoming polls,” Ridon said. He dared Comelec to “stop beating around the bush and act immediately to resolve these issues.”
Lack of source code review, single biggest cause of doubt on AES
Recently, Comelec has also announced that it would push through with the automated elections even without the source code review. The source code is the readable program that details how the PCOS machines will run on election day. RA 9369 (the law enabling automated elections system) stipulates that the source code should be opened for review 90 days before the elections. It is considered an essential step for safeguarding the PCOS machines from digital manipulation.
Due to an ongoing standoff between Smartmatic and rival Dominion Voting Systems, the source code for the PCOS machines has yet to be released.
“Brillantes is saying that there is no need for us to wait for the source code or conduct another mock election because the AES’ Technical Evaluation Committee has forwarded a ‘favorable review’ of the system. This is despite the fact that the past mock election was marred with PCOS errors and problems,” Ridon said.
In a statement released to the media, former Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman pointed out that without the source code review, the public cannot verify if the PCOS machines are counting votes correctly.
Earlier, Lagman had also questioned the Comelec’s decision to purchase the said used PCOS machines, when there were cheaper, more reliable or trustworthy alternatives. Brillantes just laughed it off when asked about it in an AM radio interview.
With regard to Comelec’s refusal to review the source code, Brillantes told DZRH late last week that as a safeguard or a way of determining if there had been cheating, we have the “random manual audit.” But for critics checking to see if the Comelec is following the prescribed safeguards for AES – and meeting disappointments at nearly every turn – this is like being asked to have blind faith in the Comelec.
“Giving a go-signal to the AES without the source code review casts a heavy cloud of doubt on the accuracy and integrity of the results of the upcoming polls. This issue alone is already a cause for alarm,” Ridon said. Echoing the warnings of election watchdogs, Ridon said that “If this issue is not resolved immediately, it can open the floodgates for massive electoral cheating.”