Comelec ‘shortcuts’ made votes vulnerable to manipulation – election watchdogs

Rene b. Azurin, author of “Hacking Our Democracy,” said at the AES Watch press conference that against historical trends, from the beginning to the lull in counting, the ranking of senatorial candidates did not change, even the differences between their votes were almost constant.

Read main story: ‘2013 elections a technological, political disaster’ – election watchdogs

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Dagdag-bawas (vote padding-shaving) became notorious during the manual counting of votes, especially during the 2004 presidential elections. But again, suspicions of dagdag-bawas are resurfacing because of what poll watchdogs described as numerous violations of the poll automation law. Given the preparation and decisions made by the Comelec — from avoiding real review of the source code of the programs being used to read votes and transmit the same, to disabling security features of poll automation at nearly every step – there are numerous potentials for automated cheating. Or in the language of IT experts of election watchdog AES Watch, instances when votes are ‘vulnerable to manipulation.’

Lito Averia, co-convener of AES Watch, explains the flow of canvassing and the vulnerabilities of the peoples' votes along the way
Lito Averia, co-convener of AES Watch, explains the flow of canvassing and the vulnerabilities of the peoples’ votes along the way

As the canvassing of votes got stalled repeatedly by transmission problems and glitches, by Saturday May 1, or five days after elections, some 20-percent of election returns are still to be canvassed.

This last 20-percent of election returns whose transmission had been delayed for five days by Saturday, “stand at risk of manipulation,” warned Lito Averia, president of PHCERT (Philippine Computer Emergency Response Team). Even the ladderized transmission apparently offers opportunities for vote manipulation at every stage because of the disabled security features and other violations of the poll automation law, such as the physical transport of CF cards rather than the electronic transmission of its contents. The corrupted CF cards and transmission problems could indicate automated cheating, but the pollwatchers and the people are none the wiser for it, the AES Watch experts said Saturday May 18.

Averia showed the media and gathered pollwatchers and election lawyers the flow chart being followed in vote canvassing by the Comelec, from a single central server processing ERs to ER transmitting copies of COCs (Certificates of Canvas) to city/municipality BOC (board of canvassers), then Provincial Board of Canvassers, then national board of canvassers. Averia also showed where in the flow chart the PPCRV and “transparency” server are.

There is “no guarantee” that the central server and transmitting servers are showing same data at any given time, Averia said. There is also no confirmation regarding which ER had been sent. These pose problems to pollwatchers who now have no way of checking or validating the numbers of votes climbing up the transmission ladder on the way to being canvassed.

The Comelec reportedly started getting stuck at canvassing on Wednesday May 15. By Saturday, the fewest transmitted election returns are from Lanao (only 12 percent have been transmitted) while the entire ARMM region still has to transmit 40-percent of its election returns. ARMM has figured in past elections as site of large-scale dagdag-bawas (vote padding and vote shaving).

In some towns in Negros, Bobby Tuazon of CenPeg, and a co-convener of AES Watch, reported that the people are protesting as their ballots yielded zero votes or appear blank to PCOS machines.

In Metro Manila, a pollwatcher expressed disbelief that his group’s 4,500 “prima facie” evidence representing votes of their pollwatchers failed to be seen in the counted votes.

Up till Saturday, some 10 percent of Metro Manila’s ERs are not yet in due to “lack of signal,” the Comelec said. Signals might be weak in far-flung areas of the country, but in Metro Manila? The telecommunication companies have repeatedly clarified that they were not to blame for the delays in transmission.

All these still hanging issues “expose ballots to post-voting manipulations, tampering by over voting to disregard the vote, etc.” Averia said last Saturday.

Pre-programming?

There has been an outcry over the ease with which a Smartmatic programmer could just tweak a script of the program counting the votes, ostensibly to produce statistically probable results. But based on Averia’s discussion of the Comelec’s canvassed results, there is something fishy also in the way the ranking of senators almost stayed the same for much of the time this week.

Rene b. Azurin, author of “Hacking Our Democracy,” said at the AES Watch press conference that from the beginning to the lull in counting, the ranking of senatorial candidates did not change, even the differences between their votes were almost constant. Azurin noted that it goes against historical trends. Usually, he said, the ranking changes when votes from the candidates’ bailiwicks flowed in. But the ranking being nearly constant indicate to many, he said, that “there was predetermined, predesignated, pre-programmed default, that’s why the ranking did not change.”

“Smartmatic and Comelec ensured a completely opaque, wholesale electronic manipulation of results,” said Azurin. He expressed disgust that the Comelec suspended canvassing on election day purportedly because “they were tired.”

“The one day in years we expect them to do overtime, and they’re too tired?” Azurin said the suspension of canvassing raises suspicions. “By delaying the canvas of votes transmitted throughout the night, was it perhaps because you want to report the result so you can review it so you can alter it if it’s not what you wanted?”

Hard questions

The way poll automation conducted in the Philippines represents a “serious breach of transparency and integrity,” Dr. Temario Rivera of AES Watch said. He said the modern election system is a 20-year project, but what the Comelec has been implementing is a far cry from that originally intended by authors of election automation law.
What is worse, these leaders of election watchdogs decried, is why Brillantes and the Comelec are being allowed to do these.

“Is it part of their PR spin?” asked Maricor Akol of Transparent Election Org. She shared that many tell them, ‘don’t continue with the protests, let’s move on.’ She likened the watchdogs’ plight now to the Nuremberg trial, when people asked themselves: “How can the German people allow it to happen?” Akol, who has at least three decades’ experience in IT, said “Apathy is the root cause.”
She warned that if we allowed this to happen, we will suffer authoritarian rule.

Considering the many failings in the recent election, which were directly attributable to Comelec’s decisions, Azurin said it is “absolutely mind boggling how Philippine media was uncritical, even congratulating Brillantes for the success of the elections.” He asked what the media had congratulated Comelec for: “For brazenly violating the poll automation law? For actions that made it easier to steal results? For depriving voters the right to access how their votes are counted?”

A writer himself, Azurin asked why many in media don’t seem to be aware how serious the violations are, when these constitute dastardly acts against democracy. ()

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