The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is once again blackmailing the public – for the nth time – into allowing it to disregard the safeguards provided by the Automated Election System Law (AES). After the Supreme Court ruled that the Comelec should print voter receipts, which is one of the transparency safeguards of the automated elections, the Comelec warned that it is considering the probability of postponing the May 9 elections citing that it would have to adjust its preparations with barely two months to go till election day.
The question is why?
To remind us, the AES law provides security and transparency safeguards because, not like the manual election system where poll watchers could observe the reading and counting of votes, in automated elections, the poll watchers could no longer see and validate anything, except the printed election returns. Thus, the law provides the following safeguards:
1. A review of the source code by any interested party before the PCOS machines are sealed until election day – The source code review will enable interested parties to check if the program was manipulated to favor certain candidates or parties.
2. A voter verified paper audit trail and “Provide the voter a system of verification to find out whether or not the machine has registered his choice.” – This is where the voter receipts come in. The receipt would enable the voter to check if the machine read and recorded his/her vote correctly.
3. Digital signature of the chairman of the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) on the official ballot and digital signatures and thumb marks of all members of the BEI on each copy of the election returns.
4. Random manual audit by the Comelec of at least one precinct per congressional district.
The Supreme Court is directing the Comelec to implement just one of these four safeguards: the printing of voter receipts, but still the latter refuses to do so.
No more time for preparations?
The first Automated Election System Law in the country Republic Act No. 8436 was passed on December 22, 1997, 19 years ago. This was amended by Republic Act No. 9369, which further elaborated on the security and transparency safeguards, on January 23, 2007, nine years ago. The Comelec should have complied with all the requirements of the law during the 2010 and 2013 elections but it did not, citing the purported lack of preparations.
Nine years and two elections have passed and still, the Comelec refuses to comply with the provisions of the law, specifically on security and transparency safeguards! Why?
One could only surmise the reasons. Is it due to the Comelec’s gross inefficiency and lack of planning? Is it because Smartmatic stripped the PCOS machines of these features to reduce costs and gain more profits? Was there an under the table deal to ensure both the profits of Smartmatic and the pecuniary interests of Comelec officials? Worse, did Comelec officials intentionally disregard the security and transparency safeguards to favor certain candidates?
Comelec and Smartmatic officials do not have an acceptable and credible excuse for its non-compliance. And it only has itself to blame for the flak it has been receiving and the questionable credibility of Philippine automated elections.