Collision course

FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - April 6, 2013 - 12:00am

It is now only a month to May 10, 2013. Yet the issue of the Smartmatic-PCOS automated electoral system is unresolved. There is no solution in sight that intelligent Filipino voters can expect an honest to goodness election. But Comelec is pushing it through.

We need only review the events that led to a renewal of Smartmatic-PCOS contract to see that Comelec would not have it any other way. It was Smartmatic-PCOS by hook or by crook — deadlines were ignored, unsatisfactory bidding for services pushed and most of all quibbling about a source code. And in a last minute to consolidate its determination it says it will have the source code of the Dominion automated electoral system. It was supposedly used in 2010 but no one has actually seen it up to this day except insiders.

What seems inevitable is a collision course between Comelec as government and the Filipino citizenry as electorate.

Filipino NGOs concerned with elections and computer experts have responded to the crisis by taking up issues one by one. Never mind if these are not being answered. To me these issues are irrelevant if the whole exercise is unconstitutional. Comelec has turned over its mandate to safeguard our elections to a foreign group.

If this is what we face in the coming May 10 election Filipino voters say “we might as well not vote.” It would be absurd to do so. Fine. But will individual boycotts be effective? The answer is no. If the whole point of voting by machines is to hide counting then hundreds or even thousands of votes will not be missed not especially when this is accompanied by surveys that preempt who will be the winners. Surprise. Surprise. The government’s candidates are winning according to the latest surveys.

Numbers are irrelevant in the wholesale fraud by automated electoral system. And these cannot be checked or tracked down. What an irony that automation which is supposed to have guaranteed correct and accurate counting in fact led us to a trap that from hereon machines will vote instead of human beings in the Philippines.

With apologies to my friends who pursued the debate on issues with Comelec to the bitter end, I believe that addressing computer issues like hacking, source code etc. lead us away from the central issue long known to other countries who have used automated systems: automation and honest elections are incompatible.

We should face the fundamental issue of why we should reject automation. It is automation that facilitates wholesale fraud.

Fred Burks, a CIA expert in electronic voting machines said they are not secure. Period. With that in mind, Germany, 11 US states, the Netherlands, and other countries banned electronic voting of one form or another.

“Dozens of professors and hundreds of computer experts around the country have shown that electronic voting machines can easily be manipulated and elections results changed.” writes Burk of computer generated elections in the US.

(It is the same question that Comelec should have asked in 2010 but did not. According to sources the trail will reveal shocking details.)

A Washington Post article in 2006 was even more alarming. It said “A Single Person Could Swing an Election,” yet these machines are still widely used across the US. How can we allow this clear threat to this basic foundation of democracy to continue?” the article asked.

*      *      *

Two books will be launched on April 10 at the Ateneo School of Law about why we should not accept the Smartmatic PCOS election on May 10, one is about Hacking our Democracy by Rene Azurin of Business World and the other is Was Your Vote Counted? Unveiling the myths about Philippine automated elections by AES Watch and edited by Bobby Tuason. I commend their work and should be read by all. They cite technological and legal reasons that are important.  But I take the view that these sidetrack the heart of the question.

For this we should look to Germany and why it banned computerized voting. It was not because of security issues or bugs or source codes. It decided that e-voting was a human rights violation.

It bypassed all other concerns because engaging in these only gives credence to futile discussions and battles. The questions are endless about “uncertified, defective voting machines, hiding freedom of information documents, and other issues like hand counts, spot checks, digital signatures, cryptography, certifications, testing. The whole lot.

Germany cut away from the minutiae and tackled the issue head-on at its most vulnerable and fundamental point — e-voting is a human right violation.

“For years now, leaders like voting rights lawyer Paul Lehto, Nancy Tobi (Democracy for New Hampshire/Election Defense Alliance), New York’s Andi Novick, and Bev Harris of Black Box Voting have been examining these issues from the standpoint of human rights.

We believe that counting votes on computers controlled by insiders violates inalienable rights, specifically the right to public scrutiny of public elections.”

That was the lead followed by Germany. It was further reinforced by a decision from the federal constitutional court: computerized vote counting is unconstitutional.

“The use of voting machines which electronically record the voters’ votes and electronically ascertain the election result only meets the constitutional requirements if the essential steps of the voting and of the ascertainment of the result can be examined reliably and without any specialist knowledge of the subject.“

It goes on to say that such examination must be available to the public; in fact it says “A complementary examination by the voter, by the electoral bodies or the general public”.

“The use of electronic voting machines requires that the essential steps of the voting and of the determination of the result can be examined by the citizen reliably and without any specialist knowledge of the subject. This requirement results from the principle of the public nature of elections”

It is time to face it: computerized elections are incompatible with the public nature of elections.

This contradiction has been thoroughly analyzed and debated in more sophisticated countries leading them to return to manual elections.

I concur with this view. Moreover, Filipinos have another basis for declaring the Smartmatic-PCOS election unconstitutional. Comelec has effectively turned over its electoral mandate to a foreign company. That preempts all other considerations. We cannot and should not be part of an unconstitutional election. That is not a boycott but the highest act of citizenship in a democracy.

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