Judgment day on poll machines
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva1 (The Philippine Star) - May 5, 2016 - 10:00am

With only four days to go before election day, the rumor mills spin more wild, at times funny, tall tales.  The latest victim was no less than independent presidential candidate, Senator Grace Poe who supposedly was giving way in favor of administration bet, ex-Interior Secretary Mar Roxas II.

The rumors spread through the social media yesterday following a hurriedly organized press conference called by Poe’s camp in a restaurant in Makati City. Instead, an exasperated Poe met with reporters to vehemently deny the rumors and instead announced more defections of local leaders to her side.

Currently, Poe and Roxas are in statistical tie with each other for the second place in the pre-polls surveys in both the Pulse Asia and the Social Weather Station (SWS). Validating the Pulse Asia results of the survey done last April 26 to 29, the results of the latest SWS-BusinessWorld survey done from May 1 to 3 still showed Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte topping a new voters’ preference.

Apparently, the rumors, including the criticisms and allegations heaped against Duterte have little, if any, impact on his candidacy at this late stage of the presidential race. This we personally witnessed when Duterte came to The STAR editorial office last Wednesday for our last roundtable with all presidential candidates.

Still waiting for the proverbial kitchen sink to be thrown at him, Duterte obviously remains unfazed at the dirt and brickbats coming his way.

We had an up-close and personal experience of Duterte’s rough and tough talk – dashed by frequent expletives. But he would later explain to us he only does this to project a tough persona in public to strike fear among criminals and other evil-doers. Duterte impressed upon us that he could be in his best behavior if the occasion calls for it. Thus, it’s no wonder his public antics endear him to his audience whatever income classes they come from.

But there is one persistent rumor that still goes around as election day draws nearer. Rumor-mongers with dangerous agenda in mind are spreading talks that election results supposedly could be pre-loaded and that votes intended for one candidate could be transferred to another.

In a country where no one loses – only “cheated” – politicians are always on the lookout for someone, or something to blame should they lose the vote on the coming Monday, May 9 elections.

Rather than rely on rumors and speculations The STAR editors got first-hand enlightenment from those who know really what they’re talking about, especially with the activated voters’ receipts.

Last Tuesday, we sat down with Smartmatic executives and watched a demonstration of their Vote Counting Machines (VCMs). We tested it for ourselves and picked their brains on some of the most pressing issues. Our personal impression: vote preloading and vote switching are next to impossible using this election system. Here’s why.

Remember that back in February, the VCMs were tested inside the warehouse in Sta. Rosa Laguna of the Commission on Elections (Comelec). Despite receiving little media attention, the Hardware Acceptance Test (HAT) ended with satisfactory results as far as Comelec experts and representatives from the various political parties and election watchdog groups are concerned. The scanners of the VCMs were tested to ensure they read all marks accurately. No vote switching, no vote preloading were found.

Comelec tests showed the end-to-end system worked without any glitch. Under a controlled environment simulating Election-Day, the system was tested to determine if it was fit for the purpose. The system was found to be 100% accurate. Thus, no serious objections were raised.

The day before we had the demo at The STAR, poll-workers in each precinct conducted the Final Testing and Sealing (FTS) of the machines. With only a few hiccups reported – such as replacement of a number of machines that wouldn’t turn on – nearly all of the 92,509 VCMs in the precincts passed the comprehensive series of tests to the satisfaction of all parties concerned.

There was no big number of reported malfunctions, to the great sigh of approval by Smartmatic. During the FTS, any evidence of vote switching, or vote preloading, if any, would have been detected by the VCMs itself.

Smartmatic assures us Filipino voters that votes simply cannot be transferred because the software running the system is working correctly. But what’s the basis for this claim, or should I say rumors?

Since October 2015 all the way up to April 2016, the political parties, election watchdogs, and civil society groups had a chance to review the source code running the entire automated election system (AES) that was first adopted in our country in the last presidential elections in May 2010.

And following international best practices, Comelec hired an independent party to certify that the AES is in compliance with the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG), which are the guidelines adopted by the United States Election Assistance Commission (EAC).

US-based SLI Global Solutions (SLI), the same company that reviewed the source code for the 2010 and 2013 automated elections we had here, has already finalized its evaluation and concluded that the system will count votes with 100% accuracy.

But once we have a system that is up and running, we need to make sure no one can tamper with it. To that end, the Comelec, with technology provider Smartmatic, swore they put in place a whole gamut of security measures to protect our votes.

The recent hacking of the Comelec website gave life to these fears, fueled by rumors that the same could happen to the VCMs.

The VCM is off-line at all times except for the brief minute, or so when it transmits the results using a virtual private network (VPN). Since the results are protected by a 256-bit encryption which would take years to break, Smartmatic could only pity the poor hacker to run out of luck on this one.

And, as a final safeguard, there is that robust paper trail from which results of the digital and electronic counts can be compared done by human through manual random count as mandated by our election laws.

To quote Duterte during our STAR roundtable forum with him, “men judge best when they condemn.” We had two automated polls already. Yet some still try to condemn our modernized election system to kingdom come even as we cast our votes on automated polls for the third time on Monday.


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