Comelec Trust Factor under Question
January 19, 2010
MAPping the Future
Can we trust Comelec?
By Manuel A. Alcuaz Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:49:00 01/17/2010
THE coming may 2010 elections are critical for the future of our nation. We will have the opportunity to elect a new president, vice president, 12 senators, congressmen, governors, mayors, provincial board members, and councilors.
Our citizens seem to be clamoring for change and are looking forward to electing a new set of leaders in May 2010 but will their votes be counted properly?
I wish the answer were yes but Comelec’s behavior in 2004, 2007, and in preparation for the coming elections give me cause to worry about what will happen in May 2010.
I hope and pray that I am wrong.
There is one or more good commissioner and I am sure there are hundreds of honest career employees in Comelec. But will they be strong enough to stop the corrupt elements in their midst?
In 2004 there was massive fraud in ARMM.
My comparison of Namfrel’s partial count and Comelec’s count indicated approximately 598,560 dagdag bawas in favor of GMA in ARMM alone.
In Pampanga the Namfrel ranks must have been infiltrated because GMA had 80.4 percent vs FPJ 10.6 percent. In neighboring provinces such as Nueva Ecija, La Union, Bulacan, it was the opposite.
Comelec has done nothing to punish those who committed fraud.
In Maguindanao in 2007 the administration senators won 12-0! Zubiri was number 1 and Chavit Singson was No. 2.
Zubiri got 95.75 percent of the Maguindanao vote in his home province he got 84 percent. He beat Kiram, a Muslim and the No. 1 choice in the rest of ARMM.
In spite of the obvious fraud in Maguindanao and the killing of Musa Dimasidsing, a school supervisor who exposed election cheating in Maguindanao, the Comelec canvassed the Maguindanao COC. That is why we now have a Senator Zubiri instead of Sen. Koko Pimentel.
Comelec again seems to have done nothing about the fraud and the murder of their supervisor.
When they can’t cheat you in the election, they cheat you in the recount!
There are many who can point to bid specs that were irrelevant to the proper operation of an AES System and to biased evaluation on vendor compliance to said bid specs. Many bidders were eliminated.
But that would take time to prove.
However, the fact that the Comelec has already paid Smartmatic more than P1 billion for almost no delivery is not hard to see. The Comelec contract provides for payment of P719 million for project initialization, set up project management, and project systems including SW licenses and firmware. In the Smartmatic bid, the entire project management was P99, 999, 999 and software was less than P43 million! An overpayment of P576 million.
The second payment was for P359 million for 20 test machines. That’s about P18 million per machine. In the Smartmatic bid each machine was P45, 000. An overpayment of P358 million!
If Comelec and Smartmatic can come up with creative contract terms that are not in compliance with the RFP (request for proposal) and even Smartmatic’s own financial bid, and these terms are very favorable for Smartmatic and unfavorable for Comelec, can we trust Comelec?
Unfortunately, the Comelec with the assistance of media companies and civic organizations is succeeding in creating the impression that automation will eliminate cheating in the counting and canvassing.
While it eliminates misreading ‘mistallying,’ and calculation errors, the Comelec—Smartmatic AES has no transparency.
It is very secure against hacking by outsiders, but has no safeguards against an inside job!
PCOS risks and safeguards
I will not discuss risks of equipment or software malfunction. I leave that for others to spend time on.
My main concern is with fraud-related risks.
The first risk is related to the OMR (optical mark reading) ballot.
The candidates’ names are already pre-printed in the ballot. All the voter has to do is to mark an oval in front of the candidates of choice.
This seems convenient for the voter. Unfortunately, it is also convenient for the vote buyers. They can quickly mark the ballots of someone who has sold his vote.
Near the end of the day, in a precinct controlled by a warlord, all unused ballots can be quickly marked and fed into the PCOS machine.
How does someone file a protest? Difficult. With handwritten ballots one can identify common handwriting of names. How do you identify common shading?
Computer program risks
The real danger in the PCOS machine is in the formula that is used to add up the votes read when the ballots are scanned.
The various parties could demand to see the formulas of the 1,600 + municipalities or congressional districts. But how can you be sure that the proper formulas will be loaded in all 82,000 PCOS machines?
The only safeguard I can see is to increase the manual audit of PCOS machines to 10 percent in each canvassing center. The machines to be manually audited should be chosen at random.
Every time a PCOS machine has a wide discrepancy, two more PCOS machine should be randomly selected for manual audit.
If no discrepancies are found then the results of the election would be credible.
Congress should require the Comelec to increase the machine to be manually audited from one per congressional district to 10 percent per canvassing center.
Is the Comelec transmission and canvassing system transparent and auditable?
Unfortunately, my study of the Smartmatic bid shows that the transparency and ‘auditability’ of the old manual canvassing system has been completely removed in favor of speed.
We are faced with the danger that by May 15, 2010 a new president, vice president, and 12 senators may be proclaimed. But they may not be the ones the people voted for. They could be the ones that Comelec and or Smartmatic insiders cheated for!
The manual system is slow but the parties, citizens’ arms, media, and ordinary citizens get to see that the ERs have authentic signatures.
If the canvassing center has a board, they can see the results for each precinct and compare them with a printed copy of the ER or a photo they could have taken. They could even add up the votes of each candidate to verify that the COC is right.
No transparency and auditability in AES!
The Smartmatic proposed system has no transparency or ‘auditability.’
According to Comelec and Smartmatic, ERs will be electronically transmitted from PCOS machines to municipal canvassing servers.
BEIs need an electronic key and password to enable transmission. But do they see what they are transmitting?
How can we be sure that what was printed by the PCOS is the same as what is transmitted?
The canvassing system generates canvass reports every 15 minutes. But nowhere in the bid does Smartmatic say that it will show the results received.
Comelec has not defined a process for watchers to compare their ERs (election returns) with what was electronically transmitted.
When all the ERs have been received a COC (certificate of canvass) is printed out.
That is scary, winning candidates can be proclaimed without any comparison of the tabulation being conducted!
Comelec claims that in compliance with RA 9369 it will transmit to the majority party, minority party, citizens’ arm, and media electronic copies of the ERs.
In addition it has a website where all ERs will be available.
There are a number of problems with this scenario:
1. The audit should be done at each canvassing center not on a server somewhere in Manila.
2. The ERs will be encrypted. If the sender changes its encryption key, the receiver will just see unreadable information.
3. The Comelec website will definitely crash on election night and a few days after.
The best safeguard is to provide the parties, the citizens’ arm, and media with a PC and projector.
The PCOS machines should transmit to the Comelec canvassing server and the four PCs.
Prior to printing the official COC, a comparison should be made between the five machines. Any discrepancies should be reconciled.
This solution is not very expensive, a PC with a projector should cost less than P50, 000. Let’s say 7,000 sets are needed. That will only cost P350 million.
Much less than almost P5 billion being spent on 82,200 PCOS machines that will speed up the counting by 3 to 5 hours!
Let us do something to assure honest and credible elections. And that the voice of the people triumphs.
(The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines. The author is president of Systems Sciences Consult Inc. Feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. For previous articles, please visit .)