The credibility of the results of any election depends, to a large extent, on the confidence of each voter that his or her individual choices have actually been counted. It is in the local precinct after the voter casts his or her ballot that this confidence starts. It is there where it will be possible for the voter to believe that his or her participation as sovereign truly counts.
— Supreme Court 14-0 decision ordering the Commission on Elections to printreceipts showing how vote counting machines read each voter’s choices
IT would be the same blackmail story. At its Thursday hearing on its unanimous decision ordering the Commission on Elections to provide voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) receipts showing how counting machines read each voter’s ballot, the Supreme Court would have been told, in essence, that implementing the law would lead to major election difficulties and even failure, with grave impact on national stability.
That has been the Comelec strategy in setting aside many other automated election system safeguards mandated by law in the 2010 and 2013 polls, from digital signatures needed to verify that results received by canvassing servers are genuine, to the proper review of source codes controlling vote counting and canvassing, plus the VVPAT itself.
In effect, pollwatch groups, political parties, the Supreme Court, and the citizenry have to accept the disabling of legally required measures to counter computerized fraud, because enforcing the law and declaring elections illegal would lead to chaos. Poll results would all be voided, leaving no one to run the government.
So it is with VVPAT. Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista has warned of delayed polls, manual canvassing, and even failure of election if the High Court ruling is followed. In sum and as the agency warns with every petition demanding safeguards required by law, all hell will break loose if the Comelec has to follow the law.
Stop blackmailing the nation
This hostage-taking of the election and the nation has to stop.
The law must be followed for the simple reason that safeguards are indispensable not only to prevent fraud, but also to afford every voter “the confidence … that his or her individual choices have actually been counted,” as the Supreme Court ruling quoted above declares.
With manual canvassing, the faithful tabulation of every vote is provided by the ballot-by-ballot tally closely watched by political party representatives, candidates’ watchers, citizens pollwatch volunteers, and ordinary voters. That eyewitnessed process, for all its flaws and delays, provides the confidence of every citizen’s choices being counted.
Under the Precinct Count Optical System, VVPAT receipts are supposed to show voters that their choices as shaded in PCOS-readable ballots were correctly counted by the machine. Without that, there is no way to see that votes cast were accurately recorded.
But the Comelec unanimously voted to disable VVPAT with no other verification method instituted. Only when former senator Richard Gordon, principal author of the Automated Election Law, and other petitioners asked the Supreme Court to require receipts, did the agency agree to let voters check the machines’ reading of ballots through a readout on PCOS computer screens. But still no printout, arguing that the ballot was the VVPAT.
No dice. The High Court rightly nixed the idiotic argument that the ballot was the voter’s paper-based verification. Only fools or those making fools of us would insist that the ballot is printed proof that the PCOS unit read the ballot correctly. That’s like saying blank exam questions demonstrate that a student knows the test answers.
So the Comelec falls back on its old line: Following election laws would cause big trouble, so please let us dump VVPAT as we once did to digital signatures, source code review, and random manual audit (RMA was made ineffective in catching PCOS fraud by stupidly announcing days before the 2013 polls which precincts would be audited).
Let’s not give in to this blackmail for the third election in a row. That could irreversibly institutionalize the wanton disregard of AES safeguards. The Comelec must be compelled to enable VVPAT.
If VVPAT is too troublesome, go manual
Now, if election officials keep harping on the difficulties of voter receipts, as they have with other safeguards, then we should just call the Comelec’s bluff and go manual.
Yup, better to have days of delays in manual tabulation and canvassing than the speed and ease of PCOS fraud without legally mandated safeguards. It’s a no brainer: slow but sure is infinitely better than fast and fraudulent.
But isn’t PCOS fraud-free, with no massive cheating unearthed in any election protests?
You mean the 2010 incident of more than 200 million votes recorded by Comelec servers hours after voting ended, wasn’t a big enough anomaly? Or the dubious 60-30-10 pattern of 2013 senatorial voting, regardless of regional and local voter preferences? Plus the long-missing final tabulation of senatorial results.
As for zero election protests prospering, one has to wonder if the Comelec’s love of PCOS may have affected its handling of cases alleging PCOS fraud or failure.
Bottom line: We unexpert citizens cannot verify by ourselves whether PCOS correctly counts and tabulates our votes. We are forced to accept results on the say-so of experts, which other experts vehemently contest; and the seeming similarity of national poll results and pre-election surveys (don’t ask about local voting).
Indeed, as veteran election analyst Ramon Casiple pointed out, even VVPAT is no assurance that PCOS would not manipulate the tabulation of votes correctly recorded. Or that hacked Comelec servers would not pad votes for candidates favored by corrupted insiders, while trimming rivals’ tallies.
All that anxiety would stop if we count votes one by one in front of poll watchers and vigilant citizens, then post online all the signed and verified returns for anyone to tabulate and check against official canvassing.
No source code. No digital signatures. No RMA. Just alert eyes, clear scanners and online data transmission. And the only losers would be Comelec insiders making hay on Hocus PCOS.