Saturday, April 4, 2015

In search of transparency

In the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) hearing last March 19, 2015 at the Senate, the writer asked a simple but critical question about the forthcoming 2016 national and local elections, “How will Comelec make the PCOS count transparent?” Acting Comelec Chairman Christian Lim simply responded, “Source code review . . . !”
We were expecting that Comelec would have replied “Ensure compliance with the automation election law or RA 9369 and see to it that the law’s technical provisions are followed strictly.”
The Automated Election System (AES) Watch has been saying that Smartmatic’s PCOS solution did not comply with RA 9369 and bid requirements in the 2010 and 2013 elections as their machines:
(1.) Had no enabled UV (ultraviolet) lamps (i.e., the mechanism that detects spurious ballots),
(2.) Had no voter verified paper audit trail generated (i.e., like an ATM transaction receipt),
(3.) Had no digital signatures applied,
(4.) Had no write-once compact flash (CF) memory cards installed,
(5.) Had no contingency plan (i.e.,24% of the machines failed to electronically transmit in 2013),
(6.) Had no accuracy rating of at least 99.995%, etc.
(7.) And the whole Smartmatic AES had inherent hardware defects whereby ballot images had digital lines causing additional undesirable votes counted.
In short, Smartmatic’s AES solution was not transparent at all as most of the safeguards were either disabled or removed. When safeguards are not applied and put in operation, the AES is vulnerable to tampering, hacking and other related security breaches. These breaches include the use of fake ballots, the changing of vote count in the CF cards, the alteration of the data in the election returns, the transmission of precinct election results from unauthorized machines, the inaccuracy of the vote counting, etc.
So we are really in deep trouble now as the Comelec is very insistent to again use the defective PCOS machines in 2016. Worst, Acting Comelec Chairman Lim’s en banc group reversed days ago the ruling of its Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) of disqualifying Smartmatic from participating in the bidding to supply 23,000 additional PCOS machines.
This move by the Comelec en banc is actually similar to what former Comelec Chairman Brillantes’ en banc group did in December 2014. The en banc group opposed the ruling of Comelec’s own Legal Department to conduct public bidding for the refurbishment of the 82,000 PCOS machines. Instead, the Comelec signed a negotiated contract with Smartmatic three days before Brillantes’ retirement.
Don’t you notice, the Comelec en banc has been consistently opposing the rulings of its own experts again and again. . .!
If most of the advance countries have reverted back to manual system due to their flawed AES, what could be the best AES fit for our country that we Filipinos could use in 2016? Is there a secret voting-public counting AES in line with the spirit of the automated election law, RA9369?
Yes there is! It is called Transparency and Credible Election System or TCrES. The TCrES was conceptualized by AES Watch co-convener,, and was also presented in the last JCOC hearing by their head, former Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman.
How do you implement AES under the TCrES environment? Just simply junk the Smartmatic PCOS machines and replace it with the TCrES method using ordinary tablets or laptops. That’s the only change in the current AES and the rest would be the same; that is, keeping the electronic transmission of Election Returns (ERs) from the precincts to the municipal board of canvassing and transparency server while also keeping the automated consolidation and canvassing system.
The TCrESmethod goes this way:
1. The voter casts his/her votes by writing the names of his/her chosen candidates in a piece of ballot paper instead of the Smartmatic system of shading of ovals corresponding to candidates in a kilometric ballot paper. Both processes are manually done. So it is writing versus shading.
2. Counting of votes shall be done manually (“taras”) in public and the Board of Election Inspectors simultaneously inputs the same (i.e the count) in the TCrES device for automated counting. That means, this process replaces the PCOS way of vote counting in the existing AES. This is a good fit and transparent counting as seen in public by all watchers from rival parties and from the authorized election watchdogs, rather than the hidden counting by Smartmatic PCOS machines. What’s good about this manual intervention is the validation process as the taras-counted votes could be verified with the TCrES count or vice versa. This is also called immediate conduct of audit thereby eliminating the need for the “Random Manual Audit.”
3. After the validation process, the TCrES device shall do the automated counting and generation of the ER. This is the same process with the use of PCOS machine though the PCOS lacks validation process for transparency.
4. The next TCrES procedures would be the same with current Smartmatic AES. These are the electronic transmission and automated consolidation & canvassing.
What’s the conclusion? The AES using TCrES is the same with PCOS! The only difference is that there is the validation or transparency process of TCrES. AES Watch recommends, therefore, to discard the Smartmatic PCOS solution and replace it with a trustworthy TCrES that would reflect the true will of the Filipino people.
Comelec is claiming that TCrES would not comply with RA 9369. This is untrue. But did Comelec and Smartmatic-PCOS comply with RA 9369?

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