Should we trust the results of our second automated elections?
This is the question being raised by poll watchdogs over the elections tomorrow despite the turnover of the highly disputed source code on Thursday, which was late by almost three months and therefore violating a provision of the Automated Election System (AES) Law.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) made it available for review by political parties and interested groups and placed it in escrow with the Bangko Sentral for compliance with the law. The review, which would take time if done properly, would be finished long after the elections on Monday.
“We want to be very transparent,” said poll chief Sixto Brillantes Jr. on Thursday. “The coverage [of the]source code for the 2013 elections would be those that were in the 2010 source code with some of the 2011 enhancements.”
It was only reviewed by SLI Global Solutions, an independent certification company.
It was released almost a week after election watchdogs filed a complaint against the Philippine government before the United Nations Human Rights Committee for violating the people’s right to suffrage. On the same day, senatorial candidate and former senator Richard Gordon petitioned the Supreme Court to order the Comelec to make the source code available to interested groups and political parties.
If any group reviews the source code starting today, it will be finished by September, or four months after the elections at the very sonnest, which defeats the purpose of a review to ensure correctness of the software.
However, Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) Director for Policy Studies and University of the Philippines-Manila Prof. Bobby Tuazon reiterated that the release of the source code before the election does not exempt the Comelec from the liability for violating the law.
“All malicious bugs and errors that will be found then could no longer be corrected let alone the manifest deficiencies that would make the election results questionable,” he said.
He also doubts whether the source code handed to Comelec is the same version installed in the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines deployed all over the archipelago.
“How sure are we now that the claimed ‘source code’ is the same one loaded in 70,000 plus PCOS machines that have been deployed all over the Philippines with several already tested for FTS [final testing and sealing]?” he asked.
“It will need opening up all PCOS units and running the hash code—a humongous task that only a ‘superman’ will be able to do before election.”
Information technology expert Lito Averia echoed Tuazon’s sentiments, saying that the delayed release of the source code will bring no assurance to the people whether the bugs are fixed or not.
“How will candidates, political parties, and voters know that the errors found in the PCOS program that will run the machines have been corrected even after handing down the supposed source code?” Averia asked.
Tuazon also dares the Comelec to divulge the conditions and compromises made by the two AES companies to release the source code for compliance with the law—if money, and how much, was given to Dominion and Smartmatic just to settle the feud.
“We have demanded from Mr. Brillantes to reveal the terms and conditions that defined the negotiation with Dominion,” Tuazon said in a statement sent to The Manila Times.
“Like, how much [of]taxpayers’ money was paid yet again?”
“More importantly, is this move in effect paving the way for the Dominion to be the dominant player in the 2016 automated elections?” he added.
It is known publicly that the poll chief became the negotiator between Dominion and Smartmatic to release the source code. Brillantes once said in March that the poll body can escrow—but not pay—the remaining balance of Smartmatic to Dominion worth around P400 million just to get a hold of the source code.
But the Comelec, Smartmatic International and Dominion Voting Systems on Thursday refused to divulge any terms and conditions governing their settlement that led to Dominion’s releasing the source code. There was, or still is, suit and countersuit between the two companies in the Delaware Court of Chancery.
“There is an agreement but we are not going to divulge the terms and conditions of the agreement because this agreement is personal to Smartmatic and Dominion,” said Brillantes. “And there are items in the agreement which [are]supposed to be confidential in character.”
“We don’t want to affect these legal controversies still on going up to the present. That is the reason why we are presenting those who are involved in Smartmatic but we are not allowing them to make any specific disclosures except to turn over the source code to us. This was the only request that we made and this has been now granted.”
Worst case scenario
Tuazon told The Manila Times in an email interview that the elections tomorrow can be worse than the 2010 elections. This dismal assessment is based on the performance of the PCOS machines in recent tests.
“The technical problems, queues, glitches, power failures will be worse compared with 2010,” he said. “Not even the batteries or micro-satellites worked effectively then. More PCOS machines/CF cards will have to be brought to the municipal/city canvassing centers.”
“In many areas, it could be total chaos… Expect more election protests to be filed after election,” he added.
AES Watch, an umbrella organization of expert groups monitoring the automated election, pegged that at least five to nine million votes were not transmitted to canvassing centers in the last election,
In a study made by information technology students of the Asia Pacific College, there are several possible reasons for non-transmission, including: the lack of paraphernalia, PCOS machine malfunction, energy issues, transportation or delivery problems and delays, network signals and intentional signal jamming.
CenPEG, which is a member of AES Watch, meanwhile estimated that there are at least three to six million voters “who were not able to vote or whose votes were not counted accurately,” according to Tuazon.
A massive blackout hit major areas in Luzon, including Metro Manila, on Wednesday after five power plants closed down. This adds to worries about the Monday polls.
Mindanao votes are already presumed to be compromised on Monday. This is because huge parts of Mindanao have been experiencing six-hour rotational power outages.
Parallel manual count
To ensure the accuracy of the automated results, Tuazon said that a 100 percent parallel manual count should be implemented tomorrow since the accuracy of the PCOS machines are highly questionable. The software that will be used for the elections was not made public and technical deficiencies are still unresolved.
Comelec Chairman Brillantes however rejected this suggestion, which The Manila Times has championed.
IT expert and former Comelec Commissioner Augusto “Gus” Lagman, meanwhile, said that since the machines are not 99.995 percent accurate as the law requires, the Comelec should implement more safeguards to ensure the accuracy of the results like increasing the number of precincts that should undergo random manual audit (RMA).
The law requires at least one precinct per congressional district or around 200 to 300 out of more than 78,000 precincts to undergo RMA.
Lagman does not believe 300 out of 78,000 precincts would satisfy those who want to be assured that in most of the country the PCOS machines counted the votes accurately.
Another bad thing about the Smartmatic/PCOS system to be used in Monday’s polls is that Comelec and Smartmatic have disabled important security features like the digital signatures that each precinct’s Board of Election Inspectors should affix in their election results.
Lagman urges the Comelec to increase the manual-count to five per precincts per municipality.
With no source code review, no digital signatures, no way to determine if the PCOS machinese and the Compact Flash Cards were not preprogrammed to deliver desired results favoring some candidates and other flaws in the Smartmatic AES system, Lagman feels that Comelec should do something to show that the PCOS delivered results match those of the radndom manual audit (RMA).
“Just like when you are blind…when you see nothing, your sense of hearing and feeling will become sharper,” said Lagman during a round table discussion with the editors of The Manila Times on Monday. “Same with Comelec…since we do not know what’s happening inside the machines, Comelec should strengthen the safeguards like the random manual audit.”
Be vigilant, watchful
Amid all the questions and controversies surrounding Smartmatic’s AES/PCOS system, concerned groups urged the Filipino people to be more vigilant and watchful of their votes
“No less than people power turned into electoral vigilance can protect our votes,” said Rep. Raymond Palatino of Kabataan Party-list in a phone interview. “Voter’s vigilance is much more important tomorrow. We should all protect and guard it at the precinct level and report any irregularities that are happening.”
He also said that although it can only do so much, people should maximize the use of social media, especially for the youth, to expose wrongdoings in the polls tomorrow.
Palatino also added that an immediate investigation should be pushed to probe what happened on the source code and other concerns in the second automated elections.
“It does not end with the presentation of the source code. Comelec and Smartmatic should be held liable if proven because this recent mess [between Smartmatic and Dominion]made the AES very doubtful to the people.”