by the AES Watch
The hotly-contested, emotionally-charged election campaign will finally conclude 10 days from now when the whole nation goes to the polls on May 9. Whether the elections will bring the country political stability or instability will depend heavily on whether the automated election system will work with all the trustworthiness, accuracy, and reliability that a modern election technology requires.
The current COMELEC now under a different set of Malacañang-appointed commissioners and chairman but working with the same insider poll operators and election system supplier has boasted it has implemented more safeguards than the previous Comelec dministrations. Partially true, thanks to the pressure by election watchdogs and the public. But what lurks behind this seeming and partial compliance with the law is to open up bigger risks that, absent remedies and contingencies, pose greater danger to the security and accuracy of the counting of the votes. As of this date, the machines have not been certified by third party agency to run as securely and accurately as they should.
For the IT and management system experts, as well as social scientists, professionals and inter-faith, NGO leaders who have long been engaged in ensuring honest and peaceful elections a big disaster looms in the May 9 elections if Comelec insists on SPEED AND EASE OF BEI over TRANSPARENCY and ACCURACY of DATA.
We call on the country’s 55 million registered voters and the rest of the nation to not allow their guards down, to watch their vote more vigilantly and methodically, and to prepare for an election disaster that may yet unfold so that our votes are secured and are properly counted enabling us to exercise our sovereign voice in choosing the next administration.
First, never before has the automated election system been most vulnerable to manipulation and fraud as a result of the hacking of the Comelec website on March 27 that compromised not only the election data but also the private information of 55 million voters. We have seen numerous cases in the United States and other countries where stolen election database led to the manipulation of votes, change of voter registration, and the loss of public trust in their election systems. If the Comelec website can be hacked for lack of security, reportedly with insiders’ conspiracy, how can you now trust the whole systems and infrastructures that will be used by Comelec on election day and thereafter?
Secondly, the present Comelec is repeating previous commissioners’ non-compliance with the minimum system requirements of election automation since 2010. In what smacks of an abuse of discretion and authority, the Comelec en banc quietly issued Resolution 10083 last March 15 mandating all BEIs to import all SD cards – transmitted or not transmitted ERs from the 92,509 precinct Vote Counting Machines (VCMs) – to the city/municipality canvassing centers. Under the law, Comelec must ensure the 100% transmission of ERs from the precinct to comply with another provision that ONLY TRANSMITTED ERs shall be the basis for the proclamation of winning candidates. Such arbitrary change of rules will open wide election intervention and manipulation such as the switching of micro SD cards with fake or previously-fabricated ones.
Was the resolution issued because of anticipated widespread transmission glitches on May 9 – as what happened in 2010 (where 10% of ERs were not transmitted and in 2013 with the transmission failure of 25% ERs)? Is the Comelec fooling us again?
The Comelec has been hyping that it is 100% ready for the election. But do the commissioners say they’re ready because they have complied with all the minimum system requirements to make the elections credible?
Let us look again:
1) For the third time, all ERs will not be authenticated by digital signatures of the BEIs in repeated violation of Section 30 of RA 9369 (or automated election law) which mandates that ONLY ERs THAT ARE DIGITALLY SIGNED AND ELECTRONICALLY TRANSMITTED shall be considered as OFFICIAL ELECTION RESULTS. With this violation, how can you trust the election outcome as credible?
2) We likewise raise the following questions: Has the AES system been cleared and certified 100% ready by the Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) – again as required by law? The source code review has not been fully satisfactorily concluded. Will the voter receipt accurately reflect the ballot cast unlike what happened in many countries in the ongoing Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV).
What happens if names of candidates do not appear in the machine-generated results or if names of voters in the certified list are missing?
Likewise, never seen before are numerous glitches involving the ongoing OAV voting in many countries which portend of things to come on May 9. Migrante International has reported VCM malfunctioning in the US, Canada, Italy, and Rome resulting in voter disenfranchisement; delayed ballot delivery also in the US; names of more than 100 registered voters found missing in the master list of voters in Japan; reports of incomplete votes in the receipts for senatorial race in Italy; in Hong Kong, some votes found missing in voter receipts with one vice-presidential candidate complaining that his votes were not reflected in voter receipts.
COMELEC insists to only partially enable the automated system safeguards to ensure and give more premium to speed and ease of voting over transparency, security and accuracy of election results.
- Voter verification is implemented but voters’ receipts if not secured can be easily replaced with bogus pieces of paper with no security marks known to the voters and the public (precinct location, machine source, etc.).
- Posting of the election results on the Comelec public website but if the data is only a summary of votes or if it comes from the transparency server or central server, this would be disastrous to transparency and accuracy because there is definitely no assurance that the data in the Central Server would be the same as those in the C/MBOC, as happened in the 2010 and 2013 elections;
- Comelec issued Resolution 10083 which now makes the Poll Automation Law inutile where sections 22 and 25 of RA 9369 state that only electronically-transmitted results are the official results to base the proclamation of winners.
To address these threats to the May 9 election, we strongly urge the Comelec, among others:
1) That all time-and-motion Precinct election results (ERs) -not totals and definitely not data coming from the central server and transparency server — received by the C/MBOCs be published as they are and shown on a public or Comelec website that is accessible to everyone; furthermore, the website must be maintained for 2 years as the law requires;
2) That all voters be allowed to copy in writing his/her ballot ID and precinct number that appear in the screen, and, if the receipt is wrong for the voter to correct it in writing; accordingly, the BEIs should be warned not to prevent the voter from exercising such write by arbitrarily declaring it “unlawful”.
3) To rescind Comelec Resolution 10083 immediately as it opens up wide conditions for data manipulation through SD switching and data tampering.
These are not sure solutions against fraud on May 9. After two automated elections, shrewd veteran election cheats have mastered electronic cheating. The controversial “60-30-10” pre-programming vote pattern uncovered by CenPEG in May 2010 remains unresolved today – with it, the credibility of the election results.
The recent hacking of the voter registration system and the Comelec database have exposed the Filipino voters’ personal data to risk. The ill preparedness of the Comelec infested with the “no more or lack of time mentality” made worse by its obsession to speed and ease in managing elections over ensuring transparency, security and accuracy of election data, becomes more worrisome as election day draws near. Resolution 10083, for one, is reckless, knee-jerk reaction to avoid a more disastrous repeat of the 23% failed transmission in 2013. The mode today therefore is to gear for disaster mitigation or a No-El or postpone election scenario which Comelec had dangled before in March after the Supreme Court ruled it should implement the voter receipt requirement of the law.
We anticipate the Comelec may not heed our demands and to institute appropriate contingency measures unless – as in the voter receipt issue – another case is brought to the Supreme Court. Given the threats and deficiencies of the automation system and the compromising stance of the Comelec in election management, all these leave the voters – along with the poll watchers as well as candidates and political parties – with no choice but to guard the votes and to remain vigilant and take appropriate actions against electronic fraud, transmission glitches, machine errors, and the possibility of insider hacking where the election results will not reflect the true will and intent of the electorate.