Saturday, October 25, 2014

No short cuts

How would one level the playing field with the Aquino administration people actively endorsing their candidate hence loading the bases? The Aquino-endorsed candidate has the bureaucracy as machinery, taxpayers’ money for war chest and the Comelec as “panigurado”? Why do I say this? Two Arroyo appointees (Tagle and Yusof) in the Comelec will be ending their terms on February 2015, together with Chairman Sixto Brillantes. That leaves the Comelec with 4 Commissioners (Lim, Parreno, De Guia and Lim) as it prepares for the 2016 elections. All the four are appointees of Aquino. If BSA3 fills up the vacancies and the Commission on Appointments confirms the 3 plus Lim, we will have a Comelec appointed by an outgoing administration actively campaigning for its successor. In this country of ours, who controls the Comelec controls the outcomes of the elections.
The Comelec en banc has decided to reuse the PCOS machines and a secondary Optical Mark Reader (OMR) technology for the 2016 presidential polls. It seems that automation is more of hardware-centric than app-focused. Comelec is planning to purchase about 40,000 units of the secondary OMR technology in addition to the 80,000 PCOS units that they purchased for the previous election. Comelec is also looking to pilot-test the Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) machines (touch screen) and the Internet voting system (for absentee voting) in the upcoming polls.
Comelec should first tie loose ends that happened in 2010 and 2013 so there is confidence in the system they will use. The Smartmatic Automated Elections Systems or AES was supposed to bring Philippine elections to the 21st century but after two election cycles (2010 and 2013), using Precinct Count Optical System or PCOS, more and more people are questioning the results. The questions arise because of the lack of confidence of stakeholders in Comelec and the lack of transparency in each step of the election process under the Smrtmatic Automated Election System using the PCOS machines.
Ideally, if all the security measures were implemented in 2010, we could have avoided the occurrence of the obviously fraudulent 60-30-10 last 2013 as well as the proclamation of winners without the results of elections and the sudden change of the total votes cast for the winning candidates as appearing in the National Board of Canvassers and the on the Comelec website.
Why did we automate? We did in 2010 because the process prior to 2010 was taking too long. It takes 25-40 days before the national positions could be proclaimed. But the long delay is not caused by the transparent manual precinct counting process. The delay is in what happens after the precincts’ election returns are sent out.
That means we can have a hybrid system where the local precinct process can be manual voting and counting (precinct tallying takes 5-12 hours) with electronic transmission. The national can be automated through the four phases via DRE or an Open System being suggested by ICT specialists led by former Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman. Segregating local and national can unclog further the bottlenecks and ensure a cross checking system without polluting one data set and another.
The second reason why we wanted automation was we wanted to eliminate wholesale cheating, including “dagdag-bawas.” But the Smartmatic system created the potential of a digital “dagdag-bawas” with the removal of key security features of PCOS and the damaged screen that resulted in “digital lines” that impaired the reading of a back-to-back ballot design and appeared in decrypted ballots during the random manual audit.
The other problems noted in the two election cycles were transmission issues, compact flash (CF) cards, among others. These issues need to be addressed. If BSA3 wants to include in his legacy a smooth transition, honest, orderly, peaceful elections are crucial. The process need to be transparent and Comelec will have to follow our election laws, most especially on security features.
We learned from 2010 and 2013 the following:
? Spare PCOS machines can be used to generate multiple ERs and store the corresponding data file to the spare memory cards.
? Spare PCOS machines could be used to connect to the servers.
? Disabling the feature to read UV markings.
? Disabling the voter verification feature which implements the provision of the law allowing the voter to confirm that the machine (PCOS) registered his/her choice.
? The Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) will no longer be required to digitally sign the Election Returns.
? Time and date stampings appear to have been omitted in logged messages and others. Joey de Venecia has made a gamut of observations and recommendations as early as four years and six months ago on May 2010.
These days, PCOS has led to such terms as physical count and PCOS count; ballot count and digital count; physical count and paper ballots and ballot images. Without short cuts, all these terms should have a one-to-one correspondence and yet after 2010 and 2013, it would seem they now have differing meanings.
If there are ways to cheat a manual election system, there are more than one way to do so with automated elections. If we still want PCOS for 2016, lets have all the security features, let everyone have an access to the source code, servers and random audits. Let there be transparency. No short cuts for E2016!
If we negate just one security feature, then Comelec should have a new system in place like the Open Election System using PC encoding. Let us have a homegrown system that is not hardware focused but application driven so we can have the best for our own brand of elections.
“Democracy is best epitomized through the act of voting and the electoral process. The electoral process is one of the linchpins of a democratic and republican framework because it is through the act of voting that government by consent is secured. Through the ballot, people express their will on the defining issues of the day and they are able to choose their leaders in accordance with the fundamental principle of representative democracy that the people should elect whom they please to govern them.”
Counting by hand may be better than automated counting in the end. It may be slow but everyone can see it, correct it, review it and post it while automation is garbage in, garbage out.

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