Need to audit the automated election system



The Automated Election Law, Republic Act 8436 as amended by Republic Act 9369 (RA 8436), requires the conduct of a random manual audit (RMA) on the results generated by the PCOS machine, renamed Vote Counting Machine (VCM), for the 2016 national and local elections.

Section 29 of the law provides: “Where the AES [automated election system]is used, there shall be a random manual audit in one precinct per congressional district randomly chosen by the Commission [on Elections]in each province and city. Any difference between the automated and manual count will result in the determination of root cause and initiate a manual count for those precincts affected by the computer or procedural error.”

The process of verifying the results generated by the PCOS/VCM from randomly selected clustered precincts involves manually assessing and counting what are considered valid marks on the paper ballots. The result of the manual count is compared with the vote count generated by the PCOS/VCM. The accuracy rate of the vote counts generated by the PCOS/VCMs covered by the random manual audit is then computed.

The 2016 Random Manual Audit Committee (RMAC) reported an accuracy rate of 99.9023 percent. How acceptable is the 99.9023 percent accuracy rate?

The 2010, 2013, and 2016 RMAC had arbitrarily set the allowable margin of variance of at most 10 per clustered precinct. The RMACs defined “variance” as any difference between the PCOS/VCM generated count as shown in the election return and the RMA count. The 2010 and 2013 RMAC assumed an accuracy rate of 99 percent. The 2016 RMAC, on the other hand, assumed an accuracy rate of 99.6 percent. No basis can be found for these assumptions in the 2010, 2013, and 2016 RMAC reports. The accuracy baselines were only set by the RMACs during the course of the RMA activity, with the 2010 and 2013 RMACs expressly setting aside the 99.995 percent PCOS accuracy requirement set by the poll body in its Request for Proposal for the Election Automation Project. The 2016 RMAC simply adopted the rationale for the assumptions made by the 2010 and 2013 RMACs.

While RA 8436 declares it as a policy of the State to ensure that all votes are counted and consolidated accurately and transparently, no further action appears to have been done by the 2016 RMAC to determine the cause of the variances between the machine count and the RMA count.

The random manual audit addresses only an audit of the vote counts. The PCOS/VCM used in the last three elections could have been audited to ascertain how exactly it appreciated the marks on the ballot – the size of the marks, the position of the marks, the intensity of the marks, and/or the presence or absence of marks on voting targets (the voting targets are the ovals on the left side of the names of the candidates). The process of vote recording and counting and the generation of the election returns could have also been audited.

While auditing the rest of the AES is not provided by law, some parties or groups have demanded that an audit be conducted on the whole AES, especially following the introduction of a program by Smartmatic’s Marlon Garcia in the transparency server while the AES was in full operation. The program was introduced to correct the spelling of the names of some candidates with the letter “ñ.”

All counting, canvassing and consolidation is hidden behind the veil of automation. RA 8436 provides a transparency mechanism so that accredited groups are able to receive electronic copies of the election returns. But this is not done in (near) real time from the transparency server that is located in the PPCRV operations center which is racing to publish results to stay ahead of the others. The election returns transmitted from the PCOS/VCMs undergo a process of conversion from a format called election markup language to a format referred to as comma separated values. RA 8436, however, does not provide for the provision of electronic copies of the results of canvassing and consolidation to the accredited groups, thus slowing down or preventing the process of verifying the election results generated throughout the hierarchy of canvassing and consolidation. The transparency mechanism is insufficient since it does not allow observation of all processes involved in vote counting and consolidation of results, including transmission.

A post-election audit can be done on the whole AES covering the PCOS/VCM hardware and software, all devices used for canvassing and consolidation of election results at various levels, the transparency server and all network devices, the central server and all network devices, and the meet-me-room network. The audit must cover all electronic logs and records in the devices, including the electronic transmission logs from the PCOS/VCM to the first level of canvassing and consolidation and the electronic transmission logs through the canvassing and consolidation hierarchy.

The 2019 elections is 32 months away. There is still time to prepare legislative proposals that will enhance the audit provision of RA 8436 to include auditing the whole AES. The veil of automation that hides all processes must be lifted. Transparency mechanisms must be put in place so that the election results can be monitored and observed from the vote counting machines all the way through the canvassing and consolidation of results up to the national level, including transmission.


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  1. Simply replace all those appointed in the COMELEC by PNoy. It’s not the machine that is the problem. It is the officials manipulating the election. This is the reason why we have a FAKE VP at this time and fake senators like De Lima, Pangilinan, Drilon, Hontiveros and Trillanes.

  2. Tap any of the Big 4 Auditing firms, or combination of them, to do the RMA in 2016.These international companies are more credible. We paid millions to a certifying body and billions to PCOS supplier. Why not spend for independent and professional auditing firm/s?

  3. mabait na pinoy on

    The AES machines have worked wonderfully in the last 2016 election, and this technical statement is coming from people, myself included, that have excellent understanding and expert in the field of automation and IT. Expert would be defined as someone who is formally (University) educated, trained and years of experience in these fields. These professionals would call their work as their bread an butter because this is how they earn their livelihood. The author have asked, if 99.9023 percent is acceptable accuracy rate, and the answer is YES. The deviation is negligible and acceptable, and an error during RMA count could have triggered this negligible deviation as well. As far as the transparency mechanism is concerned, it could not gotten any better than how the COMELEC have configured the system, and they were not obligated to show the observers / public on how the processes involved in counting or consolidation of votes for security reasons. Transmission issues should have been addressed to the IP Provider, because it was beyond the control of the AES system as a whole, COMELEC, and SMARTMATIC. Who was the IP provider last election? was it PLDT? GLOBE? was the service slow? They should be the responsible party for any transmission discrepancies..

    • Lets Face IT, MT columnists, Averia, Celis and Lagman,are all singing the same tune to forward their economic interest and agenda. They believe they are experts in the field and that Comelec should follow what they are prescribing. Now realistically, who would you rather listen to, Smartmatic, the world market leader in election automation systems or a bunch of has been IT practitioners who want to grab the billions of pesos worth of contract and market themselves as the new kingmakers? What COMELEC should focus on are the aspects of elections that cannot be solved by automation such as vote buying and intimidation that have proliferated as a result of an automated election system. Vote buying intensified precisely because politicians and their operators, as well as the general voting public, have come to the conclusion that the AES is accurate (99%) in counting. Forget these critics who are in the minority because they have a hidden personal gain agenda. Crab mentality…inggit lang mga yan!!!

  4. The post audit of the AES ecosystem is not only a matter of law, but a matter of transparency for the whole nation to ensure the integrity, accuracy, adequacy of policy and procedural controls, access and user controls, and effectiveness and efficiency in administering this system. This should start from the point of the pre-implementation process (validation methodology and the resolutions of results from eg single point of failure or critical or show stoppers) before AES was put into operation or production.
    To ensure an independent review, the COMELEC’s responsibility is to cooperate not chose which part of the AES ecosystem or region to be audited or choose an audit firm or consultant to perform the review process. Since the AES ecosystem is both a manual and automated processes, the review requires that it performed on both processes.
    President Du30 has to support it, if not push for an independent review of the AES ecosystem to be performed immediately as the selection of the auditors requires a bidding process with all the specifications for expertise and methodology. I am sure that this review will pay for itself in many areas such as graft and corruption.
    Mr. Averia, you column is timely. Thank you!