Many safeguard provisions of election automation law are disabled or delayed
The National Citizens Movement for Free Elections or NAMFREL has once again expressed its concern over the disablement or delay or certain safeguard provisions which were originally written into the election automation law.
Wrong ultraviolet link. Among the latest issues to be disclosed by the COMELEC was the use of the wrong ultraviolet ink in the printing of the ballots to be used on May 10. Originally, ultraviolet ink was supposed to be used as a security mark on the ballot so that the automated counting machines could detect a real ballot from a fake one when ballots were fed into the machine. COMELEC belatedly disclosed that the wrong ink had been used in the printing process but only after a large number of ballots had already been printed. It has since announced that the UV sensors in the machines would be disabled but then added that Boards of Election Inspectors (BEI) would be equipped with portable, hand-held UV lights which they would use to sweep over ballots to check for the ink. The portable lights were not included in the original budget of the project and their use now adds an extra step in a new process which BEI are only beginning to learn. It is not clear how hand-held ultraviolet lights will deter ballot fraud since they will presumably detect any type of ultraviolet ink and not necessarily just the ink originally specified for the ballot printing.
Digital signatures removed. Aside from the problems with ultraviolet ink, the COMELEC has also removed a provision for digital signatures. In the original law (RA 9369), Sections 19 and 20 required that election returns and certificates of canvass be digitally signed by members of the Board of Election Inspectors. The COMELEC’s own General instructions to BEI dated December 29, 2009 (COMELEC Resolution No. 8739) required digital signatures from the BEI by inserting an iButton security key into a security key receptacle in the machine. This would presumably prevent unauthorized transmissions plus allow authorities to trace back who exactly was transmitting from specific locations and machines. The COMELEC has now removed that digital signature provision. On March 4, 2010, COMELEC released a revised General Instruction (COMELEC Resolution No. 8786) instructing BEI to forego with the digital signatures
Source code review withheld. Under the law, the COMELEC was supposed to make the source code of the technology available and open to review. Without a thorough review, it will not be possible to determine whether the various sets of instructions throughout the system correctly and accurately reflect the results and are not vulnerable to third-party instructions to introduce codes designed to manipulate vote counts or vote consolidation.
Random manual audit rules not yet out. With elections now just over 30 days away, the COMELE has yet to release its guidelines for the Random Manual Audit required by law. NAMFREL, AES, and other pollwatching groups have advocated wider coverage of the Random Manual Audit as well as its conduct prior to proclamation of winners. Given the newness of the system and the fact that it is generally untested over such a large voting population, NAMFREL and others have advocated the importance of random audits and parallel runs over significantly-sized samples, larger than that provided by law. Given numerous delays and the lifting of so many safeguards, it becomes doubly more important that a transparent audit process be pursued.
No review of back-up or disaster recovery processes. There has been, to our knowledge, no public review of the back-up or disaster recovery processes for the PCOS machines or the different levels of the canvass. If the main software or systems or any of its components fail for any reason, the back-up systems will be resorted to. These back-up systems have not been given a thorough review to check for any vulnerabilities to fraud.
Additional safeguard measures continue to remain under close watch by NAMFREL and periodic reports will be released as assessments are completed.
A Call for Open, Transparent, and Participatory Polls
A Joint Public Statement
For Open, Transparent, and Participatory 2010 Elections
The people’s trust and confidence in the electoral system must be brought back in the May 2010 automated polls – the first automated national and local elections in the Philippines. The only way this can be done is to make the automated elections free, open, transparent, and with full people’s participation.
We are concerned that this is not being addressed by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) through its use of the Optical Mark Reader (OMR) technology. As proven in the August 2008 ARMM elections – for that matter, in many electoral exercises in other countries – this technology is vulnerable to hacking, technical errors, delays, and other problems. And as the Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) itself admitted in a report in October 2008, the poll body is ill-equipped for the technological requirements of the coming elections.
Worse, this automated technology does not guarantee an open and transparent election. OMR uses internal tallying thus preventing voters from knowing whether their votes are counted let alone from tracking poll results through electronic transmission, canvassing, consolidation, and finally declaration of election winners. Because every step is supposed to be quick, all these will make citizens’ poll watching more taxing if not a futile exercise.
While all these months the Comelec has prioritized the procurement of automated election equipment for the 2010 polls no attention has been paid on how to address the fraud mechanisms that are still in place all over the country. The use of automated technology will come to naught unless the poll body comes up with effective measures to make these powerful fraud mechanisms irrelevant. Such fraud mechanisms will come into play – possibly with greater force and vengeance – in the coming automated polls and no amount of modern technology will ensure the coming elections to be free, honest, and democratic. It will lead to wholesale electronic cheating. Election cheats from the national to local elections will continue to be unaccountable, as usual.
While there is still time the Comelec as well as Congress should welcome other proposals aimed at making the coming elections open, transparent, and participatory. One such proposal, the Open Election System (OES) combines manual precinct-level voting and counting with automated canvassing of votes at the city/municipality, provincial, and national levels. Aside from being a lot cheaper compared to the OMR, what makes this automated technology open, transparent, and participatory is the posting of election results on a public website that will be constantly accessible to all interested parties including the voters themselves as well as poll watchers and candidates. This system opens more guarantees for the verification of election data as well as ample time for the filing of election protests against anticipated widespread irregularities.
Moreover, the OES system complies with RA 9369 which calls for “transparency, credibility, fairness, and accuracy of elections” and prescribes “the adoption and use of the most suitable technology of demonstrated capability taking into account the situation prevailing in the area and the funds available for the purpose.”
This proposed system is adaptable to Philippine conditions and promotes the voters’ right to open and participatory election. It also requires less tedious and inexpensive training for both election officials and voters – so unlike in the OMR system. Based on the Comelec calendar, the only time the public and media will know the final customized and configured OMR election system is on February 22, 2010. This leaves only two months devoted to voters’ education and scrutiny by the public on the final configuration – contrary to the CAC’s recommendation of at least six months!
Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
Movement for Good Governance (MGG)
Computing Society of the Phillipines (CSP)
Computer Professionals’ Union (CPU)
March 18, 2009
Diliman, Quezon City