THE automated election system cut the election process by half in 2010 and 2013 but former Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Augusto “Gus” Lagman said automation did not stop poll fraud—it even made the process easier.
In fact, he noted that the result of the elections can be changed merely by inserting a pre-filled compact flash (CF) cards into the counting machines.
While vote-buying is the most rampant and most difficult form of cheating to prevent, the use of vote-counting machines (VCMs) is the “weakest link” in the election process, Lagman, an information technology expert, said.
He explained that the government can stop or minimize vote-buying by apprehending and detaining those buying and selling votes.
Unfortunately, the Comelec cannot do anything to ensure the transparency and accuracy of the elections as long as it uses VCMs.
“VCMs use compact flash cards to store data including vote count, by changing the CF cards with the pre-filled card, the election results will definitely change,” Lagman said
He cited several anomalies in precinct counting that were reported in 2013, but because the number of incidents was deemed negligible, the Comelec dismissed them as isolated cases.
But Lagman maintained that if an anomaly can happen in several precincts or municipalities, it can easily be carried out in other areas under an automated election process.
To address the vulnerability of VCMs, the Comelec will have to drop automated elections and go back to manual voting, he said.
The transparency of the elections was put under a cloud of doubt because of the Comelec decision to do away with the voter verification paper audit trail (VVPAT), one of the security features required under the Republic Act 9369.
The poll body also does not have secured authentication of election results that is possible only through digital signature based on the E-Commerce Act before transmission and credible random manual audit.
Under the circumstances at present, with the use of VCMs, cheating can be done during the voting, Lagman said.
He also explained that by disabling the VVPAT, voters have no way to know if the VCMs accurately read and counted their votes, which means that transparency in the voting is lost at the beginning of the election process.
Lagman’s biggest fear is a repeat of the 2010 and 2013 elections where the process was so fast nobody knew what happened during the canvassing of votes.
The former Comelec official believes that vote manipulation in the national level can be done during the canvassing because the process lacks transparency that will allow the
public to check the results of the elections.
In the 2010 and 2013 polls, Lagman said nobody saw how the canvassing was done.
The public website put up by Smartmatic only contained the total number of votes a candidate garnered, not the detailed breakdown of results from the provincial level down to the precinct level.
“What is more concerning is that in 2016, those who intend to cheat in the elections can perfect it because they already made dry runs during the 2010 and 2013 polls,” Lagman said.
The canvassing of votes involves a ladderized process that begins at the precinct level where voting machines print results or the election returns (ERs) and send them electronically to the city or municipal Board of Canvassers (BOCs).
The BOCs will then consolidate all election returns and transmit these to the provincial board of canvassers.
After tallying all the results, the provincial Board of Canvassers will then send the total to the National Board of Canvassers (NBOC) and declare the winners.
Lagman believes that the canvassing of votes during the 2013 mid-term elections was manipulated because there was no transparency in the election process.
He admitted that the reported 60-30-10 vote sharing during the canvassing of votes by the NBOC in 2013 may be true.
Under the 60-30-10 pattern, 60 percent of the votes went to the senatorial candidates of the administration, 30 percent went to the candidates of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) and 10 percent of the votes were given to other candidates.
The former Comelec official said the outcome of the elections were too perfect that the key figures in the opposition did not contest the results.
Vice President Jejomar Binay of the opposition had no reason to question the results because his daughter Nancy ranked number five in the senatorial race.
Neither did former President Joseph Estrada because his son Joseph Victor Ejercito made it to the so-called Magic 12.
Although Jack Enrile, son of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, did not make it, Sen. Gregorio Honasan did.
The older Enrile is Honasan’s mentor.
To prevent possible manipulation during the canvassing in the May 9, 2016 polls, the Comelec should put up a public website containing all ERs received by all city and municipal board of canvassers, Lagman said.
This way, the 30 groups and political parties that will be given copies of the precinct ERs can check accuracy of transmission by comparing their copies with the ERs in the public website.
Through this process, the groups and the political parties can immediately check if tampering happened during the transmission.
This system can also discourage those trying to manipulate the results because they will know that the public have access to the ERs.