The Comelec Commissioners could learn many things about election administration using an automated system, if they would only listen to people who understand automated election systems, but do not have vested interests and who are not beholden to anybody in government.
There are many of them. And their only interest is to see that our elections are credible – meaning, accurate and transparent – and that implementation is done professionally – meaning, it follows IT standard practices. Their motivation? Love of country–and adherence to professionalism.
The Comelec even has a mechanism by which it can consult with various stakeholders. The ninth pillar in its strategic blueprint, COMSTRAT 1116, is “Continuing trainings and seminars with various election stakeholders.” I used this pillar when I was a Commissioner at the Comelec. Despite the fact that I was an IT practitioner myself and that I already had an IT consultant in my office, I would nonetheless invite other IT practitioners for meetings where I would discuss the IT plans of the agency and solicit from them ideas that would help further streamline our operations.
But the practice apparently stopped when I left. After that – and even before my time – we had groups of lawyers that administered the 2010 and 2013 elections, both of which, as we know, used an IT-assisted system. Both, especially the 2013 elections, were dismal failures. What we got were inaccurate results from non-transparent systems. We were therefore left in the dark.
For the 2016 elections, the present Commissioners are following the same strategy: following only what the vendor, Smartmatic, and their internal “project management group” (also lawyers) recommend to them. That strategy didn’t work in the last two elections; why aren’t they changing it?
In 2012, I recommended to the Commission en banc that the first bidding process should be for the selection of project managers. There are many experienced IT consulting firms and systems integrators in the Philippines. Any one of them could have provided the Comelec with professional guidance in the project implementation and with proper representation in dealing with vendors and service providers. Sadly, the Brillantes Commission did not heed my advice.
Since the Bautista Commission is just following the same strategy as the Melo and Brillantes Commissions, then I suppose we cannot expect a different outcome in 2016. Inaccurate results from a non-transparent system. We will again be left in the dark.
Following are a few more of what the Comelec could learn if they would only listen to the right people:
1. An OMR (Optical Mark Recognition) system, though not quite as bad as a DRE (Direct Recording Electronic) system, is not a transparent system, owing mainly to the fact that the counting is not witnessed, much less understood by the voting public. It is equivalent to asking Smartmatic to do the counting for us inside a locked room and then handing over the results to us when they’re done. No witnesses; no watchers. Is that acceptable to us? We totally abdicated the running of our elections to a foreign group! Was that what we wanted?
2. And because it was also Smartmatic which provided the Comelec with the canvassing system, which unfortunately lacked proper controls (incomplete data in the public website), then the results of canvass, from municipal to national positions, also became questionable.
3. There’s a simple way of ensuring that no tampering is done during the electronic transmission of Election Returns (ERs) to the City/Municipal Board of Canvassers: As soon as the canvassing center receives the transmission from a precinct, post the data immediately into a public website. Watchers at the precincts who have printed copies of the ERs can then download the data and compare same with their ER copy. If they’re the same, that means the transmission was clean.
Political parties and any individual can then do their own parallel tabulation so they can check the accuracy of the official Comelec results, from municipal all the way to national positions. Needless to say, that public website must carry the complete set of data. Smartmatic/Comelec did not complete that data in 2010 and 2013; as if they didn’t want to be checked.
But before you say, “Great!”, there’s a major black hole in the system. A very weak link. Nobody knows if the ERs are accurate! It’s PCOS that counts the votes and PCOS that prints the ERs. If the very first step is corrupted, then the whole system crumbles. That’s the main reason for our opposition to the use of PCOS. That first step cannot be trusted! Worse, based on our experience with them in 2010 and 2013, the foreign vendor cannot be trusted either.
4. Reviewing source code using only a “read-only” version is a waste of time. It’s like asking the reviewer to execute the computer program in his brain, aided only by pen and paper. It’s okay if the code consists of only a few instructions. But a full-blown source code with hundreds, or perhaps thousands of instructions? Forget it.
The usual review is done using software tools and the ability to run the program using test data. Systest Labs, Inc., the international certification body – paid tens of millions by Comelec to certify the code -was, for sure, allowed the use of all these facilities. Nonetheless, it still took them months to review all the programs. And yet, Smartmatic expects the local reviewers to do it without tools? Aw, c’mon.
Smartmatic’s reason for restricting the review is probably their concern about their Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) on the software. But they knew from the start that such review is required by RA 9369. Why did they participate in the bid? No, they cannot use that reason!
Equipped with above knowledge, I suppose we can expect the Commission to make better, more logical decisions. Or, can we?