Senator Francis Escudero should do his homework before opening his mouth on the hybrid vote canvassing system being considered by the Commission on Elections (Comelec). His fear that the Precinct Automated Tallying System would lead to fraud shows ignorance of how PaTaS works.
Read through the process below, recently tested by the Comelec, and assess exactly how massive fraud could be done without detection:
First, voters fill out ballots with either the names of their preferred candidates, or shadings in spaces corresponding to their choices.
Second, counting is done manually, with election watchers of rival candidates, members of the citizens pollwatch arm and people from the community monitoring the tally and able to scrutinize every ballot. It’s painstakingly slow, but there is ample opportunity to check the counting and immediately address anomalies and mistakes.
By contrast, the Precinct Count Optical System may be super-fast, but except for the fraction of precincts subjected to Random Manual Audit, the public would just have to take it on faith that the PCOS computers are tabulating and transmitting votes correctly.
Sadly, in 2010 and 2013, the Comelec disabled or weakened safeguards against fraud. It dispensed with digital signatures needed to ensure only results from authorized machines got into the canvassing servers. The source code dictating how ballots are counted was not properly reviewed. Even random audits were made superfluous by stupidly announcing the precincts to be checked three days ahead of voting.
Third, during the PaTaS count, each vote is recorded on the precinct tally board and in a laptop computer, whose tabulation is projected for all to see. If a vote is wrongly recorded on the board or the computer, people watching the count can instantly object, and corrections made right there and then, before another ballot is counted.
By contrast, if PCOS machines miscount, no one will know unless manual audits are properly done hours or days after erroneous results are transmitted and tabulated at the Comelec.
Instant verification of vote tallies
Fourth, after the precinct count, election tabulators, political party representatives and citizen poll watchers double-check the tally before online transmission to Comelec servers. Verified and signed election returns are distributed to all groups authorized to receive ERs, and an electronic copy is posted online for anyone to check. If the wrong tally is uploaded, complaints and verification can be done instantly with signed ERs.
The transmitted results would carry digital signatures from the laptops sending them, to ensure only authorized tallies are accepted by Comelec servers, and the machines sending them are positively identified.
If there are questions about precinct results or anomalous canvassing at city and provincial levels–the kind of fraud Senator Escudero fears–political parties, election watchdogs and the citizens can do their own validation and recount using the returns posted online.
Thus, if a candidate suspects that 100,000 votes in his favor were tabulated for his opponent in city canvassing, his party can do its own count with its own ERs, validated with verified copies online, and immediately protest with the Comelec and in media.
Indeed, any group with fast typing fingers using simple tablets or even smartphones, can do its quick count with uploaded ERs even before official canvassing begins. That would make dagdag-bawas hard to pull off without detection.
You can’t do that with PCOS. What one may be able to do — and could have been done in 2010 and 2013 — is to send bogus results from a battery of computers hidden in, say, Antipolo; or make counting machines reallocate votes with a 60-30-10 percentage sharing among administration, opposition and independent candidates, using dubious source codes released too late to be thoroughly tested.
Now, Mr. Senator, under the PaTaS process outlined above, how exactly would candidates and Comelec insiders manipulate the count without instantly being found out, especially by entities doing tabulations as soon as validated ERs go online?
Your response would be published in this column, so that the Comelec, PaTaS advocates and citizens are forewarned, and preventive measures taken if the hybrid system is adopted. Please send your reply to firstname.lastname@example.org, addressed to Ricardo Saludo. Many thanks in advance.
Spend our taxes–or give them back
Besides the good senator, President Benigno Aquino 3rd and his Cabinet need to hit the books, especially the budgetary ledgers, to ensure that their repeated underspending is somehow addressed in the coming months.
This imperative is doubly crucial for two big reasons emerging this week. One is the looming euro zone debt crisis after Greece voted on Sunday against austerity conditions for continued bailout loans. And the second is Aquino’s proposed 2016 national budget of P3 trillion, a hefty 15-percent rise from this year’s P2.6 trillion.
On Europe, global economic growth and investment could go south because of the Greek debacle, plus the expected rise in world interest rates as lenders get edgy and the US Federal Reserve proceeds later this year to wind down its liquidity-boosting program of rock-bottom rates and hefty bond buying.
If international conditions, including China’s stock market woes, dampen expansion and capital flows, Aquino would need to do what his predecessor did in 2009: boost public spending to counter a planet-wide slump and keep the economy growing.
Unfortunately, under him, underspending has held back gross domestic product, halving GDP growth in 2011, and adding less than one percentage point to annual economic expansion in succeeding years.
In the first quarter of 2015, growth dropped to 5.2 percent, again mainly because of underspending. If the administration had met its expenditure target, GDP would have increased over 6.5 percent.
If this problem persists, next year’s P3-trillion budget would idle tens of billions of pesos more collected from taxpaying consumers, wage-earners and businesses. If Aquino can’t get agencies using up additional funds, then Congress should consider giving one-time tax breaks, so people and firms can spend more to boost GDP and jobs.
If you can’t spend our money for our benefit, Mr. President, give it back.