Thursday, May 6, 2010

Poll watchdogs fear high-tech cheating

Two election watchdogs warned Thursday that the May 10 elections could be the target of high-tech cheating after the Commission on Elections (Comelec) admitted that there was no more time to check the contents of 76,000 newly configured flash cards.

Election watchdogs and Automated Elections System Watch said the new flash cards being configured by poll machine supplier Smartmatic-TIM should be subjected to public scrutiny, particularly by IT people.

IT expert Augusto Lagman of said the machine vendor, or an erring programmer hired by the company, can easily pad and shave votes through the flash cards.

“You can do dagdag-bawas (vote padding and shaving) with that.You can give instructions [to the flash cards or the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines]. It’s just like a computer, that’s why you have to trust the administrators and the vendors”

Alfred Pascual of AES Watch said his group warned the Comelec about the possibility of high-tech, massive cheating in the automated election system because of the time constraints imposed on the poll body to prepare for Monday's elections.

“We have highlighted that the flashcards are the most vulnerable in this elections. [We should] check what’s in the flash cards. What if there are pre-recorded images in the flash cards?” he said.

He said that aside from an audit of the configuration of the flash cards, concerned groups should also be allowed to witness or physically monitor the cards when they are installed to avoid switching.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez on Thursday said the new programmed compact flash cards, which experts said can be a tool for high-tech vote padding and shaving, would not be open to the public for scrutiny.

“The configuration should be open to the public at some point, but right now, I don’t think there will be enough time to show it anyway,” Jimenez

Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM are racing against time to configure 76,000 flash cards by Friday morning or just 3 days before the May 10 national and local automated elections.

Comelec ordered a nationwide recall of all flash cards of the PCOS machines after the machines failed to read votes cast for local candidates during field testing on Monday.

Pre-programmed cheating

Pascual, meanwhile, rejected a proposal to postpone the elections to give Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM more time to fix the glitches. “To give more them more time would mean giving them more time to probably commit more errors,” he said.

He said that from the start, his group had noticed that Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM were doing a “trial-and-error” approach in the automation project.

“What is happening is that Filipino voters are becoming unwilling participants in this very expensive experiment. I call this a heuristic exercise, a trial and error exercise,” Pascual said.

He said that when the Comelec awarded the automated project to Smartmatic-TIM, the contract specified that voters can just place a simple X mark with a pen or a pencil on the ovals corresponding to the candidates’ names.

He said Smartmatic-TIM failed to meet the specified mark since voters are being advised to fully shade the ovals for their votes to be counted by the PCOS machines.

Pascual said he could not understand why Smarmatic-TIM failed to identify the latest glitch since they have already conducted a number of field tests and mock elections.

He said that with all the glitches, the Comelec should reconsider a proposal to hold a parallel manual counting of the votes.

Jimenez, for his part, admitted that Comelec has not prepared for a total manual count because they are only prepared for a 30% manual count as part of their contingency plan.

“It can be done, yes. That is up to the en banc to decide, but right now there is no reason for that,” he said, when asked if they are preparing for a 100% manual count.

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