I’ve been asked quite a few times where cheating might occur in Smartmatic’s PCOS system and what safeguards can be put in place in order to prevent them. For the better appreciation of the reader, I shall classify the major cheating threats (only the major ones, for brevity) into the four steps comprising the election process.

Precinct voting

Those who say that the 2010 and 2013 elections were fully automated are wrong, because precinct voting in those two elections remained manual. As such, the common cheating schemes in manual voting could therefore also have been existent in those two elections. The most rampant among these of course is vote buying. This is also the most difficult to prevent, especially in a developing country such as ours, where the percentage of poor people is very high. It is easy to understand that a voter who can hardly feed his family would be easy prey to vote buyers.

The only solution I can offer to eliminate, or at least minimize, the occurrences of vote buying is to show a few examples of vote- “buyers” and “sellers” actually going to jail. Entrapment comes to mind, as well as, the proper gathering of evidence and swift trials. I know … this is not easy to implement under the justice system that we have in our country.

Precinct counting

This is the weakest part in the entire Automated Election System with PCOS, simply because counting is not public. It is secretly done. Transparency therefore is completely lost. It is not unlike asking the Smartmatic technical people to do the counting behind closed doors, then their slipping out the results under the door when they’re done. How can that process be credible? We have entrusted the counting of our votes to a foreign company. That’s almost the same as entrusting the choice of the winning candidates to them.

The saddest part is that this can be done – could have been done - without us even being aware of it.

Out of pure luck, there were a few areas in 2013, which revealed anomalies in the precinct counting. Because there were very few, a Comelec official was quoted to have said that these anomalies were isolated cases. What this official probably does not realize, is that in an automated system, if an anomaly can happen in one precinct, or one municipality, it can just as easily happen everywhere. One occurrence should have triggered a full investigation.

It was/is an expensive experiment. But the only sure way of eliminating this major cheating threat and bringing back transparency to our election system, is to discard the PCOS machines and to go back to manual counting at the precincts.

Electronic transmission

It is important to ensure that what are transmitted from the precincts are the same as what are received by the City/Municipal Board of Canvassers (C/MBOC). This is the reason why the digital signatures of the members of the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) are required.

There is however a much easier way of achieving the same result. Publish all Election Returns (ERs) received by all C/MBOCs from the precincts, in a public website. The thirty groups and political parties which received copies of the precinct ERs can therefore check the accuracy of the transmission simply by comparing their copy of the ERs against the ERs in the public website. If what were received by the C/MBOCs, as can be seen in the public website, are the same as what were sent by the precincts, as evidenced by the thirty copies of the ERs at the precincts, then it means that no tampering happened during transmission.

Canvassing (municipal, provincial, national)

If Smartmatic’s Canvassing and Consolidation System (CCS) can ensure that the public website contains ALL the ERs received by all C/MBOCs, then any person can download the ER data and do his own consolidation, using Excel or any other tabulation software. With that kind of transparency, no dagdag-bawas can occur during canvassing, or if there is, it will be exposed. We must demand this data availability from both Comelec and Smartmatic. It’s so easy to do. Their refusal to make this public website available can only mean that they want to deny the public the best way of checking the accuracy of the official Comelec canvassing.

As happened in 2010 and 2013.

In 2010, 9% of the PCOS machines failed to transmit the ERs to the C/MBOCs; in 2013, 23% of the PCOS machines failed to transmit the ERs to the C/MBOCs. No explanation has so far been given to the public. And so we don’t know if Comelec was able to canvass all votes. The Comelec (Smartmatic?) also failed to make available complete data in their supposed public website. And what were made available, were only totals; not raw ER data.

We MUST insist that this public website be populated and made available to all. This is vital and we must NOT agree otherwise. As I said, it is so easy to implement, but will make the electronic transmission and canvassing completely transparent.

If they can do this, then PCOS will be the only weak spot left in our entire election system. It is also the most expensive (at P10 billion per election), but saves only 12 hours in the process. This is the reason I keep on insisting that PCOS be junked! Precinct counting must be transparent to the public – and the only way is to revert to the manual precinct count. Like many developed countries in the world.

Germany, The Netherlands, Ireland, Australia, some US states have gone back to manual counts. And countries like Japan, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, etc., didn’t even bother automating their precinct counting.