2016 NLE Aftermath: Time to rethink and redesign the AES


2nd of Three Parts
The automation of Philippine elections began with the enactment of Republic Act No. 9369, amending Republic Act No. 8436, on January 23, 2007. It authorized the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to use an Automated Election System (AES) in subsequent electoral exercises.

The 2010 national and local elections were held on May 10, 2010 using a hybrid AES – balloting was done manually while counting and transmission of election results were done electronically. The Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines were deployed for the first time. I have enumerated some of the defects and flaws of this system in my previous article.

The 2013 midterm elections held on May 13, 2013 was plagued with problems of all sorts. This time, the Comelec utilized new Vote Counting Machines (VCMs). But the Smartmatic-supplied AES exhibited deficiencies and shortcomings on the hardware, software and peopleware.

So, where do all of these things bring us? This is now the point where we say to the Smartmatic-Comelec tandem that we’ve had enough.

“Enough is enough. Replace the AES!”

President-elect Rodrigo R. Duterte was catapulted to the presidency by his promise of change “#TunayNaPagbabago.” MatapangnaSolusyon, MabilisnaAksyon.
Indeed, drastic times call for drastic measures. Let us now rethink and redesign the present AES.

According to kontradaya.org, Smartmatic had bagged at least P18.4 billion worth of contracts from the Comelec – P7.2 billion in 2010, P2.5 billion in 2013 and P8.7 billion in 2016.

The P18.4 billion could have been used to build 28,700 decent classrooms, or construct some 1,600 kilometers of highway, or send 222,600 students to school. That is what we have given away to these foreigners for a flawed and defective AES.

Imagine if we could use an AES at no cost to the government and to the taxpayers. What if the “no cost” AES is actually readily available anytime, highly secured, with one hundred percent accuracy, fully redundant and has no downtime? Imagine furthermore, that this “new” AES has no more need for paper ballots and the transmission, consolidation, and canvassing would be done real-time?

Let us look at the first likely system for AES – the lotto machine.

Everybody knows what a lotto machine is and how it works. It is pretty simple. You, as the bettor, mark your bets on the lotto card. The operator feeds your card into the lotto machine, and the lotto machine issues a printed receipt. Lotto machines and their network infrastructure are highly secured, one hundred percent reliable, and almost hack-proof. I had an opportunity to talk to a former director of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) and he confirmed that the lotto machine and its network infrastructure are one of the most secured IT networks in the world.

I will not discuss the details on how the lotto machine can be converted into a reliable voting machine. Nevertheless, I promise to tackle this at the proper time, venue and forum. Lottery systems anywhere in the world are designed to be secure with redundant safeguards built into them to prevent tampering.

The voting goes like this: Comelec issues a lotto machine-readable registration card to each voter. This card shall be fed into the lotto machine on Election Day to verify the voter’s identity and allow him to cast his vote. The registration card can be used only once.

a. The voter fills up his lotto-type ballot by shading or crossing out the numbers corresponding to his selected candidates.

b. The lotto machine operator, a Comelec personnel or an accredited individual, then feeds the lotto-type ballot into the lotto machine.

c. The lotto machine prints out a voter’s receipt, which the voter can then verify. If he is satisfied with the receipt, then he shall deposit it in a “ballot” box.

d. All votes are instantaneously transmitted to the lottery’s server and readily consolidated.

Of course, it goes without saying that a special application program would be developed and executed on all lotto machines on Election Day. How do we prevent vote buying, someone else voting for another, and similar electoral frauds? Each voter shall be issued a bar code or QR code after casting his vote. The code will entitle the voter to join a lotto draw at the close of polls. The prize money cannot be claimed without the issued code and the voter’s validated personal information. Who wants to give away a million pesos in possible lotto winnings?

Now, the second contender for AES – the ubiquitous Automated Teller Machine (ATM).
I used to work in the Information Technology (IT) department of a multinational bank and at the time, we made sure that our ATMs, just like lotto machines, are highly reliable, secured, and one hundred percent accurate. People from all walks of life understand how to use an ATM. You insert your bank card in the ATM, input your Personal Identification Number (PIN), perform your desired transaction and the ATM prints a transaction receipt.

Again, I will not elaborate on the technical details on how ATMs can be transformed into trustworthy voting machines. I will present the details at the proper time, venue and forum. Voting with the use of ATMs will be like this: Comelec issues registration cards, similar to ATM cards, to all qualified voters. This registration card shall be used to verify the voter’s identification on Election Day and can be used only once.

a. The voter, on the ATM’s touchscreen, selects the candidates that he is voting for in various elective positions.

b. The voter visually ascertains his choices on the screen and the ATM prompts him to make his vote final.

c. The ATM then prints out a voter’s receipt, which the voter can then verify. If he is pleased with the votes shown on the receipt, then he drops the receipt in a designated “ballot” box.

d. All votes are immediately transmitted to the main server of Bancnet/Megalink and promptly consolidated.

Again, for this type of electronic voting, a special application program would be developed and installed in all ATMs that will be utilized on Election Day.

Government expenditure for these two proposed systems shall be so low that there would be no more room for corruption.

The third candidate for adoption as a potential AES is the TAPAT (Transparent Election) System developed by the father-and-son team of Arnold and Angelo Villasanta. The Villasantas are computer engineers. This system, however, would entail the purchase of tablets and peripherals, printing of ballot cards and procurement of a dedicated transmission facility on Election Day. I was given the chance to see how this system operates and it proved to be transparent, accurate and fast.

The TAPAT system requires the voter to shade his choices in the ballot card.
The ballot card is then fed into the bottom of a contraption (holding the tablet) for scanning, digital imaging and counting. The system then prints out a voter’s receipt. What is amazing about this is that the voter can correct his choices if necessary. All that is needed is an “X” mark on the oval and the system ignores that choice.

I, however, found the TAPAT system wanting on the proper documenting of voting procedures, error handling, technical set-up guidelines and the like. I have offered to draw up these things, pro bono, to the older Villasanta.

Will the Automated Election Law allow the use of the above-proposed systems? If not, then the law in itself should be amended. More of these in my next article on Friday.

Al S. Vitangcol III is a lawyer, a registered engineer, and the Philippines’ first EC-Council certified Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator. He holds a masteral degree in Computer Science and was designated head of the Joint IT Forensic Team that investigated the 60 PCOS machines that were found in a house in Antipolo City during the 2010 national and local elections. He served as a resource person both in the Committee on Suffrage hearings at the House of Representatives and at the 2010 Joint Presidential and Vice-Presidential Canvassing. He recently trained several political groups in order to help them prevent electoral fraud during the 2016 National and Local Elections.


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1 Comment

  1. Amnata Pundit on

    If I am not mistaken, there is a provision in the AES law which specifies that only a program that has already previously been used in an election can be qualified, which effectively eliminates a Filipino made program and ensures that only a foreign program be used by Comelec. This obstacle to a Filipino made program should be eliminated first as Smartmatic has shown that we can lose total control of our elections if a foreigner is the one assigned to handle it. Personally, I prefer a hybrid of manual and automated, where the actual counting of ballots at the precinct level is manual- that will tale only a couple of hours- and the results prominently displayed for all to see. This way the counting is as transparent as can be like in the old days. These results will then be brought to the municipyo like before where they will be encoded for transmittal to the national server with copies furnished to the provincial hall. The precinct count must be the final count. This way is cheaper and more transparent than if everything is automated all the way from the precinct counting.