Dumping Smartmatic

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

Consider this happening in the 2022 general elections: you shade the circles beside the names on the ballot. The ballot is placed in a pile beside the deputized teachers manning the polling precinct. Perhaps there’s a box, metal or cardboard, for keeping the ballots until voting ends.

The boxes are then opened and each ballot fed into the vote counting machine. The VCM sends the data to a computer whose screen can be scrutinized right on the device and on a wall where the computer screen is projected.

This is in lieu of the voter’s receipts printed out by the Smartmatic VCMs that were used in last May’s midterm elections.

The computers send the data to the canvassing center. Representatives of the accredited major political parties and the citizens’ arms can check the computer data against the information on the ballot, either before or after the paper is fed into the machine. Photos or video can be taken of the images on the computer screen, for quick counterchecking of the canvassing results.

There will be no laborious manual tallying of votes on blackboards or sheets of Manila paper.

This is the voting concept that Eliseo Rio intends to propound when he meets on June 21 with representatives of the Commission on Elections as well as companies interested in replacing Smartmatic as Philippine election technology provider.

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As of June 21, Rio would still be the acting secretary of the Department of Information and Communications Technology. His fate after June 30 is uncertain. President Duterte had wanted Sen. Gregorio Honasan to assume the post of DICT secretary at the end of the 17th Congress.

It was later pointed out that the Constitution prohibits a member of Congress from benefiting personally from anything that was created by a law passed during his incumbency. The DICT was spun off from the Department of Transportation and Communications through Republic Act 10844, which was enacted on May 23, 2016, when Honasan was midway through his current term.

The DICT law also requires the department chief to have at least seven years’ experience in the ICT industry. With the usual political acrobatics, Honasan might be able to skirt this provision by arguing that his tasks when he was in the military can meet this requirement. But he can’t skirt the constitutional provision.

So Rio might still be in his post when the time comes to supervise a public bidding for the voting technology that will replace what we have bought from Smartmatic.

By now it looks pretty certain that Smartmatic is out. What went into the decision to dump the company is unclear, considering that administration candidates shut out the opposition in the Senate race and dominated the local elections last May.

And now instead of the Comelec taking control of any change in the provider of the voting system, the DICT is taking over.

The Random Manual Audit Committee recently announced that its random manual audit of ballots in 711 clustered precincts showed “99.9953 percent” accuracy of the vote count by the Smartmatic machines. The committee is composed of the Comelec and its accredited civil society citizens’ arms as well as the Philippine Statistics Authority.

Perhaps the administration is aiming for 100 percent accuracy in the bigger 2022 race, during which Filipinos will pick a new president and vice president on top of the others who will fill the posts that were contested in last May’s polls.

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Because of the announced “99.9953 percent” accuracy of the vote count, there is ugly speculation that the administration may be aiming for some other result in the 2022 race.

Rio, an electronics engineer and retired Army brigadier general, strikes me as a guileless man who simply intends to carry out an order of the Chief Executive and commander-in-chief in shutting out Smartmatic.

With his proposal, Rio told me, even Philippine companies may be able to handle the country’s voting system. He said the companies could supply the computers, which may be used alongside the 97,000 vote counting machines that the Comelec bought last year from Smartmatic. The VCMs were used in the elections last May as well as the one in 2016 in which Duterte was propelled to Malacañang by a landslide.

No Philippine company has the election experience required under the automated election law to qualify as full replacement for Smartmatic. Rio said the DICT would propose amendments in the law to allow Philippine companies to qualify.

For low-tech folks like me, Rio’s proposal seems simple enough. On the other hand, I can’t see the wisdom of tapping companies with zero experience in election systems to handle the Philippine vote.

Also, regardless of the technology, or whether we opt for manual, automated or hybrid elections, our basic problem is that there are individuals who believe they can get away with election fraud.

And unfortunately, in certain cases, they have been correct.

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VIP ENTITLEMENTS: Some Pinoys can’t give up the perks of power. At around 2:30 p.m. yesterday along the westbound lane of NAIA Road turning left to the overpass, motorists were waved aside by three motorcycles, their sirens or wang-wang wailing and blinkers on and driven by men wearing MMDA uniforms, to make way for two vans – one black with license plates that looked like ACA 2349 followed by a white van with “MMDA transport” marking. Is the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, to borrow a phrase, more equal than others?

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