There are six and only six areas where cheating can occur in automated elections. They, of course, do not include those outside the system itself, like vote buying, flying voters, and other external schemes. Let me discuss each of these six.
First is during the reading of the ballot. Through malicious software, the marks in the ballots can be read, then interpreted incorrectly to favor some candidates. But even if there is no mal-intent, there is also the possibility that due to some defect in the machine, hardware and/or software, the votes could be read and interpreted incorrectly.
The VVPAT (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail), more popularly referred to as “receipt,” is an effective way of mitigating the impact of this weakness. It is not a 100% solution, but sufficient enough to give the voters the confidence that their votes were read correctly.
Second is in the counting of the votes at the precincts. Having read the votes correctly has nothing to do with counting them accurately. The latter is a different step altogether. PCOS-counting is also the weakest point in the entire automated election system.
Any time precinct-counting is automated, transparency is lost. This is the reason countries like Germany, The Netherlands, Ireland, Australia, and other developed countries reverted to manual precinct-counting. They want the voters to see – and understand – how their votes are counted.
The way it’s done now is not unlike handing over our ballots to Smartmatic and asking them to do the counting for us in a closed room that’s not accessible to us. After they’re done with the counting, they simply slip the results out to us. Foreigners counting for us and we accepted the results wholeheartedly? In 2010 and 2013 we did. And it will happen again, in May, 2016.
Why is PCOS-counting the same? Because PCOS is run by software. And who wrote the software? Smartmatic (Dominion Voting Systems of Canada in 2010 and 2013). They could have counted correctly, or incorrectly. Intentionally, or unintentionally. And the really bad thing is that … we won’t even know. Unlike with manual precinct-counting where the counting is done in front of us.
This weakness is partly mitigated by the source code review—restricted as it was—and the random manual audit (RMA). The RMA was poorly implemented in the last two elections, but happily, it will now be done by a different group.
Third is during the electronic transmission of the precinct results (Election Returns, or ER) to the City/Municipal Boards of Canvassers (C/MBOC). It is possible to block the ERs during transmission and to alter the data before releasing them to the C/MBOCs.
Mitigation will be discussed together with and after the next three canvassing steps.
Fourth, fifth, and sixth are during the canvassing and consolidation at the Municipality, Provincial, and National levels, respectively. It is in canvassing that “dagdag-bawas,” the deadliest among the cheating schemes, occurs.
Sadly, it is much easier to execute “dagdag-bawas” in automated elections. All one needs is to convince a small group of insiders who know the software, to modify it in order to favor some candidates. Some suspect that this might have happened, especially during the 2013 senatorial elections.
There is one simple step that will eliminate the vulnerability to cheating in the last four areas where such cheating can occur — post all ERs received by the C/MBOCs into a public website that’s accessible to all.
That single step will do two things: 1) The ERs viewed from the website can be compared with the printed ERs distributed to the political parties at the precincts. If the figures match, then we can be certain that no tampering occurred during transmission; and 2) All the ERs in the website can be downloaded and independent tabulations can then be done by anybody in order that he can check the accuracy of canvassing at the municipality, provincial, and national levels.
Attempts to tamper with the data during transmission and to rig the canvassing and consolidation would be detected.
Comelec Chairman Andy Bautista announced during the February 16, 2016 hearing of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) that they would implement this recommendation. This, to my mind, was the best and most significant decision the Comelec has ever made.
But during the March 23, 2016 hearing, Comelec Commissioner Christian Robert Lim said that the data to be posted into the public website will be sourced from the Central Server. That decision, on the other hand, just doesn’t make sense. 1) The copies of the ERs at the C/MBOC are what we want to audit because those are the official ones; 2) There is no assurance that the data in the Central Server would be same as those in the C/MBOC, as happened in the 2010 and 2013 elections; and 3) 9% and 23% of the PCOS machines, failed to transmit the ERs in 2010 and 2013, respectively. Apparently, the teachers in those precincts physically brought the CF cards to the C/MBOCs, where the CF cards were fed into the spare PCOS machines, thus completing the data. It is very possible that the Central Server and Transparency Server were not updated with those data.
What is it that compels me to keep on writing about this issue? It is the single, simple step that will add tons of credibility to the result of automated elections and I want to be sure that it is implemented … and implemented properly.