Garci’s ghost haunts techies

Garci’s ghost haunts techies
By Kristine L. Alave, Norman Bordadora
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—The specters of “Garci” and glitches are fueling urgent calls for hybrid elections.

Information technology professionals fearing hiccups in the automated election system (AES) on May 10 have pressed demands for a parallel manual count.

They said that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) should consider a manual count after the electronic transmission of results to various canvassing centers and before the proclamation of any candidate.

Maria Cristina Coronel, president of the Philippine Software Industry Association, said that the partial manual count for the presidential, vice presidential and the mayoral races could be done by the board of election inspectors (BEI).

“Unless we do a full count at all precincts, of at least the top two positions, we cannot say with confidence that the coming elections in May will be free of any form of cheating,” Coronel said in a press briefing sponsored by the Movement for Good Governance.

Ex-President Joseph Estrada’s Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) also has asked the Comelec to conduct a parallel manual count after two out of 20 counting machines in absentee voting in Hong Kong failed over the weekend.

“That’s a 10-percent failure rate, which is definitely not acceptable,” said PMP senatorial candidate Jose de Venecia III, an information technology businessman and the PMP’s spokesperson on automated election concerns.

“The Comelec has no choice but to conduct a parallel manual count on all precincts nationwide,” he said.

De Venecia said that with the expected failure of at least 10 percent of the more than 70,000 counting machines on May 10, “the results of the elections at the national level will all be contestable.”

Coronel said the manual count would not pose a heavy financial burden. It would not also delay the announcement of results and would discourage losing politicians from thinking that the machines were rigged.

Time, motion study

She noted that a time and motion study had revealed that it would only take three hours for a precinct with 500 voters and five hours for a precinct with 1,000 voters to do the manual tally.

About 50 million Filipinos have registered to vote in the 76,000 precincts using counting machines that would tabulate and transmit results electronically.

Ma. Corazon Akol, president of the Philippine National IT Standards Foundation, said the use of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines did not guarantee that the elections would be free of fraud.

Akol said the compact flash cards could contain commands that could manipulate the results.

Gus Lagman, convenor of the transparentelections.org, also warned against high-tech cheating. He said that lack of system transparency could allow a government insider to rig the election. He added that the automated system was not fail-safe.

The specter of an electronic “Garci” is real under the electronic balloting system using state-of-the-art programs, Lagman said, referring to former Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.

Garcillano allegedly manipulated results in the 2004 election to favor President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo with the help of military generals in Maguindanao province. She has denied the charge.

Selected massive cheating

“Our concern today is more focused on the high probability of massive cheating in selected areas involving national, local and even party-list elections,” Lagman said.

AES Watch, a consortium of poll watchdog groups from the church and the civil society, urged the Comelec to hold another mock elections and install large video projectors that will show real-time tallies.

The group also supported calls pushing the Comelec to allow independent third-parties to conduct a random manual audit of ballots from at least 1,500 ballots before the announcement of winners.

AES Watch said in a letter to Comelec Chair Jose Melo that these measures could be costly but that it was a small price to pay to ensure “trouble-free and credible elections.”

The group noted that the projectors, the manual audit, and the mock elections a day before the actual polls would make the detection of the printed and the transmitted election results easier.

The Comelec has yet to decide on whether to hold the random manual audit of votes, which is mandated by law, before or after the proclamation of the candidates.

Melo has said he favors the post-proclamation audit so as not to delay the results and defeat the purpose of computerized balloting.

The Comelec says that in the automated balloting, results for the local races will be known in 12 hours after the voting, while national contest winners can be proclaimed within two to three days.

PMP vice presidential candidate and Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay also urged the Comelec to take note of the delays caused by faulty PCOS machines in Hong Kong and prepare contingency measures.

“The weather conditions in Hong Kong and the Philippines are different. But so is the situation for voting. Such delays can be accommodated during absentee voting, but we do not have such luxury on May 10. They are given several days to cast their ballots so should they fail, they can try again. Here, we only have one day,” Binay said.

Karen Ang

A plebeian who is trying to make small changes in this world.