Electoral watchdogs question credibility of automated elections

May 2, 2013

One of 12 electoral alerts released by AES Watch on social media, to inform the public about the vulnerabilities of the upcoming elections.

One of 12 electoral alerts released by AES Watch on social media, to inform the public about the vulnerabilities of the upcoming elections.

Lack of security safeguards, legal disputes between the election’s technology providers, and constant initialization and transmission malfunctions will create credibility issues on the the upcoming 2013 automated elections, according to various election watchdogs.

The Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG), a convener of the Automated Election System (AES) Watch, points out that legal and reliability problems will arise if the Commission of Elections (Comelec) pushes through with the automation of the May 2013 elections.

No source code review

One of the key problems pointed out by CenPEG is the lack of source code and digital signatures, both of which are safeguards mandated by the Automated Election System Law or Republic Act 9369.

According to RA 9369, the source code is the “human readable instructions that define what the computer equipment will do.”

CenPEG director Bobby Tuazon explains that if independent parties are not allowed to carefully study the program that makes the whole automated electoral system run, the absence of malicious codes and the integrity of the process cannot be ensured.

“Without the review of the source code, as specified under Section 12 of the AES Law, the voter is not assured that his vote for candidate A is indeed counted under candidate A. This can make cheating easier and untraceable in comparison to manual elections,” Tuazon said in an interview with Pinoy Weekly.

Tuazon also condemned the refusal of Comelec to affix digital signatures in the ballots which, according to the electoral body, is just an “additional expense.”

Comelec chairperson Sixto Brillantes, Jr. also recently stated that there has been no success in retrieving the source code from Dominion Voting Systems, thus, the lack of a source code review.

The problem arose from the break-up between between Smartmatic, the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) provider, and Dominion, the election technology provider. Dominion now holds no obligation to make its software application available to Smartmatic, and therefore to Comelec, because it has already terminated its contract last May 23, 2012. Also, the License Agreement between the two companies only covered the 2010, and not the 2013, elections.

Machine malfunctions

Meanwhile, the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), another AES Watch convenor, also expressed distrust on the overall capacity of the PCOS machines to deliver this coming elections.

Last April 25, Namfrel national Chairman Corazon de la Paz-Bernardo wrote to Brillantes about the major glitches in the machines during the nationwide mock elections.

Based on reports from Namfrel and CenPEG, there were problems with the initialization of PCOS machines in Tondo and constant rejection of ballots after a few runs in University of the Philippines Integrated School (UPIS) and EDSA Elementary School. There were also delays in the transmission of results in areas in Camarines Sur, and inability to transmit altogether in areas with unreliable network connections such as Tawi-Tawi and Dumaguete City.

AES Watch’s IT resource persons also reported only a 97% accuracy during the July 2012 mock elections, as against the 99.9995% accuracy mandated by the law. This low accuracy would result to “millions of votes being missed out from counting in an actual election,” according to CenPEG.

These errors and malicious bugs dating back to the 2010 elections could no longer be corrected, since Smartmatic has lost authorization and access to the program by Dominion, Tuazon added.

He repeatedly noted that the country is not yet ready  for an automated election, and slammed Comelec’s push for automation despite legal and credibility issues.