Opinion


Deliberate ignorance on automated polls




Strategic Perspective
René B. Azurin

Posted on October 23, 2014


“WHO CONTROLS the machine, controls the votes” is the simplest explanation yet of the problems intrinsic to a computerized election. It was made by University of the Philippines political science professor Bobby Tuazon (of the policy group CenPEG) to drive home the essential issue regarding automated elections to people without any technical background. Of course, the cabal behind the obvious conspiracy to electronically manipulate the outcomes of our elections has not neglected organizing a slew of defenders.

These defenders of our Commission on Elections’ seriously flawed implementation of an automated election system (both in 2010 and 2013) -- aside from Comelec itself, these include certain well-known columnists and a prominent election lawyer -- exhibit an ignorance that has to be deliberate, since it has to be assumed that these personalities possess at least a reasonable level of intelligence. The arguments they put up -- that there is “no hard evidence that the PCOS [Precinct Count Optical Scanner] has been fraudulently used” and that there is “no factual or legal basis... for accusations of poll rigging” -- have taken the character of a mantra that they seem to have been taught to keep repeating on the premise (a la Goebbels) that if you say a lie often enough, people will eventually believe it. This could be right, but at least it will not be because computer experts, IT industry professionals, academics, and concerned civic groups haven’t been trying to inform the people of the truth.

It should be made clear that Comelec has made conscious and deliberate decisions to eliminate all the ways whereby the public and independent observers might collect such hard evidence of election rigging. As part of its flawed implementation, Comelec has disregarded standard computer security protocols and completely removed the required system safeguards that could have allowed citizens to verify their votes, validate the count, and ensure the integrity of election results. In blatant violation of our own election laws, Comelec has:

• Not made the PCOS program source code available for public review to allow independent observers to check that there are no malicious lines of code that instruct the computer to add votes to some candidates and deduct votes from others;

• Junked the use of digital signatures that will permit the authentication of the electronic transmissions of precinct results;

• Used compact flash cards (memory devices) that can be over-written to easily change precinct results;

• Allowed a non-specification open console port on the PCOS voting and counting machine that permits instant access to the machine’s brain;

• Bungled the execution of a supposedly “random” manual audit and inexplicably took over two months to release its results; and

• Not properly secured both the machines and the memory devices from surreptitious access.

To repeat, Comelec’s actions constitute gross -- and brazen -- violations of our automated elections law and our election code.

Notwithstanding the barriers deliberately erected by Comelec to shield what its machines were doing from the public’s eyes and make it virtually impossible for candidates and voters to obtain “hard evidence” to prove poll rigging, such hard evidence has been found in the relatively few instances when circumstances and court orders actually made it possible to open the ballot boxes and compare the machine count with an examination of the physical ballots. Hard evidence of electronic tampering could also be seen when it was possible to examine the logs of the electronic transmission of results from the precinct counting machines to the central canvassing servers.

In one example -- made possible because of a court order by the Regional Trial Court (Branch 34) in Nueva Ecija to open the ballot boxes in three precinct clusters in Gapan -- it was seen that the PCOS machine registered 781 votes for senatorial candidate Brother Eddie Villanueva, while a manual recount yielded 900 votes. The difference of 119 votes represents a huge 15% alteration in the actual poll results.

In another example, transmission irregularities were (painstakingly) documented in Biliran province where time stamps clearly showed that election results were mysteriously received by the Municipal Board of Canvassers in at least three municipalities AFTER the precincts’ PCOS machines had already been switched off. That is unmistakable evidence of “network intrusion.” At the risk of stressing the obvious, the question is, from what unknown machines did those transmissions therefore originate? Also in Biliran, there is documented evidence of 4,114 votes being already recorded in PCOS machines in 145 clustered precincts days BEFORE election day.

In yet another example, from Lapu-Lapu City in Cebu, an examination of the ballot images from PCOS machines in several precincts showed mysterious lines in the images that effectively altered the machine appreciation of the ballot, causing significantly erroneous counts. The ballot images did not, therefore, “faithfully capture or represent the votes cast by the voter.” Since Comelec (and its technology provider Smartmatic) had sole possession and absolute control over the rewritable CF memory devices and had the encryption/decryption algorithm to allow tampering of data on the devices without obvious signs of such tampering, it is clear at whose doorstep this tampering should be laid.

It should be noted that the evidence cited -- there are a few more -- has been obtained in spite of the aforementioned obstacles created by Comelec to prevent the gathering of such evidence of poll manipulation. If Comelec did not only deliberately remove all the mechanisms whereby the public and independent observers can verify, validate and authenticate election results, there would doubtless be a greater preponderance of evidence of election rigging. The problems intrinsic to an automated election lie in the procedures and protocols followed in its implementation: these must incorporate mechanisms that allow the polls to be transparent to observers and the public at large. Without such mechanisms that provide transparency, an automated election must be deemed illegitimate, invalid and undemocratic.

One well-known columnist crossed from ignorance to maliciousness when he claimed that “the most vocal critics of the PCOS are conflicted, being also agents of an alternative technology being peddled.” Since the “alternative technology” being proposed to replace the flawed and untransparent Comelec automated system consists of a manual count at the precinct level, followed by electronic transmission using ordinary PCs, and then tallying using Comelec’s in-house-developed canvassing software, what exactly can this fellow say is being “peddled?” His baseless and spurious claim only betrays his allegiances.

Last Oct. 9, 2014, lawyer and former congressman Glenn Chong, former Philippine Computer Society president and election watchdog AES Watch spokesman Professor Nelson Celis, former Comelec employee (and whistleblower of the ballot folder overpricing anomaly) Melchor Magdamo, Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption Chairman Martin Diño, and Pastor Wendell Unlayao filed a petition before the Supreme Court seeking to join -- and further substantiate -- an earlier petition by Ricardo Penson, Christian Señeres, Rizalito David, and Baldomero Falcone to declare the 2013 senatorial elections “null and void” because of “strong evidence... of electronic dagdag-bawas [cheating].” The petitioners are accusing Comelec of “grave abuse of discretion when it proclaimed the winning senators in the May 2013 polls” in spite of “clear and overwhelming evidence that the May 2013 elections were carried out illegally, resulting in massive electoral fraud and deliberate subversion of the will of the electorate.”

Filipino voters must hope that the Supreme Court will support these petitions on their behalf and that the justices will not exhibit the same deliberate ignorance that betrays allegiances to the powers that be.

Dr. René Azurin is a management professor, strategy consultant, and author of several books on government and the economy.