Who’s watching the polls?

AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman - The Philippine Star

Who can you trust these days? When election day comes, who will protect your vote?

To start off, let’s talk about the printing of the ballots. Namfrel national chairman Gus Lagman said that 70 percent of the ballot printing was not observed. After several discussions with Comelec officials, observers were allowed to watch but it was too late. Only 30 percent of the process was inspected.

What about Smartmatic’s alleged breach in its data infrastructure? Comelec Chairman Saidamen Pangarungan said that they will only pay the P90 million for the automated election system (or AES) “once we are convinced that Smartmatic is innocent about this leakage of data.” Sanamagan! This sounds iffy, knowing the background of Smartmatic in the past but Pangarungan assures the public that this will not affect the election process.

Then, how can we forget F2 Logistics, the firm of Davao businessman Dennis Uy?  Comelec signed a more than P500-million contract with his firm to distribute election paraphernalia, from the ballots to the vote counting machines. Take note, F2 Logistics will be in charge of forward and reverse logistics for the equipment related to the automated election system, such as vote-counting machines, transmission equipment and other devices.

We have many poll watch groups ready for the job of protecting our votes: NAMFREL (National Citizen’s Movement for Free Elections), LENTE (Legal Network for Truthful Elections), PPCRV (Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting), Kontra Daya, DEMWATCH (Democracy Watch Philippines), etc.

Moving on, with Election 2022 just a week away, how can we, the citizens, protect our votes? Let us first try to understand the steps and see where the possible loopholes for election fraud can take place.

On election day, at the precinct, you choose your candidates from a ballot and cast your vote and it goes to the vote counting machine (VCM). The VCM then generates a Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT).  This is the “receipt” issued by the VCM detailing who you voted for, from the president down to the councilors. It is very important for the voter to review the VVPAT to ensure that his vote was properly read and recorded by the VCM.

Once the precinct has closed, the VCM will generate a summary of all the votes cast from that machine. This summary is called an Election Return (ER). The ER must be signed by the Election Board and publicly posted in a conspicuous place within the voting precinct.

A photo of the ballot and an electronic copy of the ER are stored in the SD card of the VCM. The generated ER is then sent electronically to the City/Municipality Canvassing Center where all the ERs of that place is tabulated in a document called the Certificate of Canvass (CoC). The Certificate of Canvass is then forwarded to the Provincial Canvassing Center where all the CoCs for the province are collated and tabulated and a Provincial CoC is then forwarded electronically to the National Canvassing Center, which is in Congress.  These results are also mirrored in the Comelec Server and the Transparency Server.

Once all the CoCs are submitted, the president- and vice president-elect shall be proclaimed based on the results received in the Comelec, Congress and Transparency Server.

Now what should we be worried about, given the electronic election process we have?

1) Possibility of the SD card being hacked or swapped. The SD card contains the source code or the program used to read and tabulate the ballots. However, it may be swapped with a different SD card or re-programmed to read a vote for Candidate “A” as a vote for Candidate “B”.  How do we prevent this? By asking the watchers and volunteers to take a photo of the SD Hash available at the bottom part of the printed Election Return. The Comelec has released a document detailing the SD Card Hash (source code). We need to compare the SD Hash on the ER with that provided by the Comelec.

2) Take photos of the Election Returns and tabulate them. There is a big possibility of dagdag-bawas of votes at the canvassing level since the ERs are electronically received and tabulated. The watchers should have a summary of the number of ERs for the locality so that at the first instance when the numbers don’t match, the watcher may already flag a concern.

How can these scenarios be prevented? Last week, retired Supreme Court senior associate justice Antonio Carpio, together with Cornerstone Technologies led by Atty. Ria Villanueva, launched the HOPE Watch 2022 App. HOPE stands for “Honest and Open Philippine Elections.” Its mission is to empower every Filipino voter to guard and protect his/her vote and the vote of everyone from precinct to national level. The HOPE Watch 2022 App can be downloaded for free from both Google Play and Apple Store.

How can this app help in protecting our votes?

1) HOPE WATCH 2022 has an analytic database wherein we can easily compare the photo taken of the SD Hash (from the ER) with the document submitted by the Comelec. If the data do not match, an alert will be issued for a closer investigation and, once proven, a proper complaint may be raised on time.

2) One of the legal requirements is the posting of the ER outside the polling place. All users, volunteers and watchers will be requested to take a photo of the ER and send it to the server. The app will convert the photo into a digital document that will be manually validated by the call center agents. Once the photo is validated, it will be tabulated by barangay, municipality, city, province, region and at the national level. The results will be shown as the results are validated in almost real time. The barangay and city/municipal results of the user’s vote shall be made available in the app itself so the voter himself will know the results of the poll in his barangay and city.

Since the cheating happens at the canvassing level, if the Filipino people have a copy of the Election Return, then it will be very difficult for anyone to cheat through dagdag-bawas at the canvassing stage.

The HOPE WATCH 2022 App uses the IT Concepts of Crowdsourcing and Blockchain by requesting its watchers, volunteers and users to take photos or report the results of the polling at their precinct and broadcasting these results nationwide to all its users. Once everyone has a copy of the ER nationwide then it will be very difficult to alter the results of the polls.

As former justice Carpio, who is credible enough to campaign for clean elections, put it, HOPE is a “game-changer” in the Philippine election scene.


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