PCOS is the only remaining problem

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The Comelec agreed to this writer’s recommendation! The new feature will not eliminate all the defects of the Smartmatic AES (Automated Election System), but it will solve at least half of them. It is therefore a major win for advocates of credible elections.

During the JCOC (Joint Congressional Oversight Committee) hearing of February 16, 2016, the Comelec announced that my recommendation for all Election Returns (ERs) data to be made available in a public website, has been approved. This public website will include all the precinct counts and all the indicative information about the ERs (precinct nos., voter turn-out, names of the teachers serving as BEIs, time stamps, etc.) – also referred to as metadata.

In the 2010 and 2013 elections, the Smartmatic AES (or automated election system) did not complete the records written into the public website, nor did it organize the records to carry all the data. Only totals were made available, which made the public website almost useless.

The JCOC chairman (for the Senate), Senator Koko Pimentel, asked me which of the three transmissions should be used (yes, there are three, but two of them are not very useful so I will not bother to discuss them in this article). My response was that it should be the data transmitted to the City/Municipality Board of Canvassers (C/MBOC) because those are the official data that will be canvassed (tabulated) to get the city/municipality, provincial, and national results. Those results are, after all, what we want to audit.


Okay, how will making all ER data available in a public website solve half of our concerns in Smartmatic’s AES?

First, a voter can download, or at least, view the ER data of his precinct from the public website. He can then compare these with the printed data in his copy of the ER. (Thirty copies of the ER are printed in each precinct. If he is not entitled to a copy, he can take a picture of the ER posted on the door of the precinct.)

If all the data are the same, meaning that which was received at the C/MBOC (and the public website) is exactly the same as what was sent (printed ER), then we are certain that no tampering occurred during the electronic transmission of the ER. If they’re not the same, then such discrepancies would be caught.

Second, any voter (anybody, for that matter) can download all the records in the public website, which are in fact, all the ERs received by all the C/MBOCs all over the country. He can then tabulate the precinct counts using Excel, or any other customized computer program that can tabulate votes. He can then compare his results with the official ones as announced by Comelec and the joint Congress (city/municipal, provincial, and national).

If there are errors in the official counts, intentional or unintentional, they would be caught. Goodbye, “dagdag-bawas”! Goodbye, “60-30-10”. Goodbye, doubtful canvass results. As possibly occurred in 2013.

There are four steps in the election process – voting, precinct-counting, electronic transmission, and consolidation/canvassing. (The fourth and last step is also broken up into the city/municipal, provincial, and national canvassing.) If we can catch all the discrepancies in two of these steps, that is, in electronic transmission and canvassing, then we would have solved more than half of our concerns with the Smartmatic AES.

That would therefore leave the precinct-counting as the only weak point. Why so? The ER that will be printed, which digital version will be transmitted electronically to the C/MBOC, could already be corrupted! We won’t know, because counting using PCOS is secret, not public. With PCOS, transparency in the counting is completely lost. That is a no-no in election management circles worldwide, where the mantra is “secret voting, public counting.”

The solution to the precinct-counting is of course very simple, but is too late to implement for the 2016 elections. That solution is … junk PCOS! After the May elections, Smartmatic should go. It has made its money in 2010 and 2013 and will make some more this year. That’s our money. Lots of money (around P30 billion), that were spent wastefully. Let us learn from these three elections. Let’s make sure we don’t use their machines ever again.

Making our elections at least “half-credible” will however depend very heavily on our involvement. There are three things that we must do:

1) We must make sure that Comelec does not change its mind about putting the detailed ER data in a public website. As has happened in the past, Smartmatic was able to convince Comelec to dispense with the source code review, the digital signatures, the UV lamp, and the VVPAT (Voter-Verifiable Paper Audit Trail). Comelec must put its foot down on this one.

2) We must download the contents of the public website and compare our respective precinct’s data against the ER data from the precincts.

3) We must tabulate what we have downloaded and compare our results with the official ones.

It was a very big win for credible elections during that JCOC hearing. Yet, no print, radio, and TV media carried the story the following day. And even till now. It’s not surprising because it takes some experience in IT systems to be able to immediately appreciate the significance of this additional step. Or, is this really the reason?

Advocacy in our country’s public affairs can be so frustrating.

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3 Comments

  1. Gus,

    It’s been a long time since we have a chance to see each other. The election results should be beyond question or our cherished democracy will be in peril again. We need your expertise more than ever. You are probably the best COMELEC Chairman we never had. Sayang.
    Any please get in touch. Email to me your mobile number so I can arrange a meeting.

    John Raña
    johnrana0707@yahoo.com

  2. Amnata Pundit on

    Their approval of this website is totally inconsistent with their inexplicable resistance to the requirement of the automation law that they issue receipts to the voters. To me, this inconsistency only means that they have a way of circumventing the website but they have no way of going around the receipt if ever they are forced to issue one. The real question is this: Are the Comelec and Smartmatic determined to give us an honest election or are they determined to cheat? What do you think?