Teodoro Locsin Jr.

Voting machines fail

Voting machines fail
76,000 memory cards to be replaced
By Michael Lim Ubac, Tarra Quismundo, Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Now, it can be told officially. The tests produced weird results.

This sent embarrassed officials of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and its partner, Smartmatic-TIM, scrambling to save the historic computerized balloting on May 10 by recalling 76,000 compact flash (CF) cards that are in the heart of the counting machines.

“We didn’t expect this to come out, but we are responding on time,” Cesar Flores, spokesperson for Smartmatic-TIM, at a nationally televised news conference said.

Flores blamed the glitches, which first surfaced in two precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines last month at the start of advance overseas voting in Hong Kong, on “human error.”

“We are taking all measures to remedy this,” Flores said, just five days before the May 10 national and local elections.

“We are optimistic that there will be no failure of elections,” said Commissioner Rene Sarmiento. “We are taking all measures to remedy this.”

“I will not be honest if I will say that my confidence has not been diminished because, as I said, what will happen next?” said Henrietta de Villa, chair of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), the Comelec’s citizen’s arm.

In mock elections on Monday conducted by the Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM in six towns in Occidental Mindoro, votes for presidential candidates Manny Villar and Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III were counted for Gilberto Teodoro Jr. of the administration party, according to the Nacionalista Party (NP).

This prompted supporters of Villar led by his NP spokesperson and senatorial candidate Gilbert Remulla to rush to the Comelec office in Manila to file a complaint.

Automated cheating?

Remulla showed to reporters a tally sheet from the PCOS and a manual count.

“There were five votes for Villar, five votes for Aquino, but when it came out (in the machine), there were no votes for Villar, no votes for Noynoy and 10 votes for Teodoro,” Remulla said.

“Is this automated cheating?” he asked, adding that the inability of the machines to properly count the votes in the mock elections proved persistent talk of a failure of elections.

Comelec officials reported that in tests in three far-flung towns of Cuyo, Magsaysay and Brooke’s Point in Palawan province, the machines only read portions of the ballots containing the names of candidates for national races, according to the Inquirer’s Southern Luzon Bureau.

Similar problems occurred in tests in the provinces of Bataan and Pampanga.

Flores said that the eleventh-hour glitch surfaced Monday during testing and sealing of machines in 50 to 100 precincts to show that the automated election system is working and has no malicious data.

Cards to be replaced

He said the problem was in the flash cards, equivalent to the SIM card in cell phones.

Although the company has no final numbers on defective compact flash cards, it is moving to replace the memory cards for all the 76,000 PCOS machines already sent to regional hubs for field distribution, according to Flores.

Present at the news conference were representatives from the Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) and its technical evaluation committee, and Makati City Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr., one of the co-chairs of the Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Elections.

The wrong tallies stemmed from the memory cards, Flores said.

He noted that the cards contained wrong “instruction” regarding the local ballot face that caused the PCOS machines to give “contradictory” readings of the names and the votes for the local contests.

Officials said the PCOS machine read the races for the national posts correctly.

Precinct-specific cards

Each PCOS machine contains a compact flash card which has the details on the specific precinct. It has the number of voters per precinct and the names of the candidates vying for local posts, among others.

For the ballots, which are precinct specific, to be read and recorded correctly, the program inside the card and the software inside the PCOS machine must work together.

During the printing of the ballots, the spacing of the local ballot face was adjusted to double space from single space, the formatting used for the national contests.

This change was not included in the compact flash card, Flores said. As such, the PCOS machine read the local ballot face as if it had a single-space format, causing the machine to wrongly allot votes to certain candidates or skip other names.

“The flash cards inside the PCOS were not able to locate certain candidates to positions,” Flores explained.

“For some reason, the configuration was telling the machine that the second row visually is actually the third row,” he said. The next row was read as a “blank space,” he said.

Who’s to blame?

Although there had been several mock elections and the PCOS machines were tested before they were dispatched, the problem was not discovered until Monday, Flores said.

He said that the ballots used in the mock elections and in the warehouse testing had different faces from the ballots that would be used on May 10.

Flores blamed the Comelec for the snafu, saying the poll body did not want to use real ballots to test the PCOS machines. The Comelec was authorized to print no more than 50.7 million ballots, the number of registered voters.

Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said Smartmatic-TIM had 20,000 flash cards on hand, which they had started to configure with the right instructions.

The company has also ordered more memory cards from local and overseas suppliers, he added.

Flores said the problem was “surmountable.” Correcting the instruction on the memory cards is “easy,” he said, adding that the challenge the company and the Comelec face is on the delivery of these cards to the precincts.

‘It will be done’

Although the schedule was “tight,” Flores said the company would be able to change the compact flash cards starting Wednesday night.

“It is a tight schedule but it can be done and it will be done,” he said.

As of Tuesday, the Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM had yet to finalize the delivery of the replacement cards.

Larrazabal said the Comelec was devising a procedure for the orderly recall of the flash cards to allow for an inventory. He said the Comelec would probably destroy the defective cards recalled.

Pending the replacement, the Comelec and Smartmatic canceled the testing and sealing of the PCOS machines.

Flores said the operation would resume on Thursday and Friday. Machines that will not pass the testing and sealing will not be used on May 10, he said.

New round of tests

Under the law, the testing and sealing operation of the PCOS machines is scheduled three to seven days before the elections.

“The machines from Tuesday will be tested again on Thursday. Some on May 7. All machines will be tested before Election Day,” Larrazabal said.

CAC chair Ray Roxas Chua said he did not expect defective memory cards to cause delays in the last-minute election preparations.

“We are not sugarcoating this. This is definitely a setback, but one that is not insurmountable,” said Chua, who is also information and communications technology secretary.

De Villa said she had received several calls and text messages from volunteers reporting problems with the PCOS machines in Pasay, Parañaque, Makati, Pasig and Las Piñas, and Batangas and Mindoro.

“Most of the complaints were PCOS failure, PCOS did not count, PCOS counted national (votes for national candidates) but could not read the local, all candidates for mayor except one,” De Villa said.

Problem can be fixed

She said that the Comelec had vowed to fix the problems. She expressed confidence in the automated polls and disagreed to proposals to hold a total manual count of election results. “It will just be confusing,” she said.

“And how can you validate a system with a process that is also corrupted? We wanted to automate because we were so unhappy with the manual system that has been corrupted, so why are we validating a new system with a corrupted system?” De Villa told reporters.

In the provinces, officials said unexpected problems arose during the testing and sealing of the vote-counting machines, prompting the suspension of their distribution. They said the Comelec office in Manila had sent instructions that technicians would be sent instead to fix the problems.

In San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, acting election officer Perlita Villanca told local radio dzVT that the testing and sealing of the PCOS machines had been deferred. PPCRV volunteers reported that in Magsaysay, Sta. Cruz and Sablayan towns, the machines did not count votes for a congressional candidate.

In San Fernando, the Comelec recalled PCOS machines in Central Luzon after 95 percent of some 700 units used in tests in Pampanga and Bataan failed to count votes for local candidates.

Officials said the distribution of machines in Cebu, Negros Occidental, Zamboanga del Sur, in Region IV, composed of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Quezon, Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan had been ordered suspended.

Comelec Director Juanito Icaro said the advice from the Comelec national office was only “to stay put” and technicians would be sent instead. With reports from Redempto D. Anda, Marrah Erika Lesaba, Maricar P. Cinco, Fernan Gianan, Mar Arguelles and Madonna T. Virola, Inquirer Southern Luzon; Carla Gomez and Nestor Burgos Jr. and Jhunnex Napallacan, Inquirer Visayas; Ryan D. Rosauro and Julie S. Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao; Tonette Orejas, Charlene Cayabyab, Carmela Reyes-Estrope and Anselmo Roque, Inquirer Central Luzon; and Delmar Cariño and Charles Keith, Inquirer Northern Luzon

Melo: We’re 100 percent on target

Melo: We’re 100 percent on target
By Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—It’s all systems go, contrary to fears of skeptics.

“We are 100 percent on target,” declared Chair Jose Melo of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in an interview with reporters barely three weeks before the first nationwide automated elections on May 10.

He said that the Comelec was within its schedule for the deliveries of ballots, the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) voting machines, ballot boxes and other materials within this week.

“We are on target on the printing, we are ahead of schedule. The customization of the PCOS machines is going along well,” Melo said.

Ray Roxas Chua, chair of the Comelec Advisory Council and the Commission on Information and Communications Technology, also expressed confidence that preparations were “on track to be able to conduct a successful automation.”

“We’re pretty confident that it will work,” he said in a recent interview with the Inquirer.

Exaggerated

Chua shrugged off fears that the automated election system was prone to modifications that could undermine results. He said that there were safeguards in the ballots, machines and in the other processes.

“If someone tries to change the results, it will show. It’s going to be difficult to alter the results,” he said.

The fear of a massive failure of elections is exaggerated, Chua said, saying the scenario is “almost impossible.”

The Comelec has leased 82,200 PCOS machines from Smartmatic-TIM Corp. that will read and scan the machine-readable ballots. About 76,300 of them will be deployed to each precinct, while the rest will be on stand by to replace those malfunctioning.

Machines being shipped out

Melo noted that freight forwarders started on Monday to ship voting machines to various regional warehouses in Mindanao. The process would be completed May 6—four days before the balloting.

The ballot boxes will also be at the precincts seven to three days before the elections for the testing and sealing of the PCOS machines to be conducted by the board of election inspectors and observed by election watchers.

The printing of the 50.7 million ballots for the May 10 elections will be completed by Thursday evening or Saturday, two days before the Comelec’s self-imposed deadline of April 25.

The verification of the ballots, which entails each ballots to be scanned by a voting machine, is expected to end a day or two after. All the ballots will be sent directly to the municipal treasurers to ensure swift delivery.

The preparations for the canvassing system have also started, Melo said.

Centralized canvassing

On Tuesday, Melo, Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Sen. Francis Escudero, chairs of the joint congressional oversight committee on the automated elections, each entered a six- to eight-character password into the software for the centralized canvassing system.

The password will lock the system, disabling modifications and changes in it, Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal explained.

Thus, fears that the 1,772 laptops that will be used in the canvassing can be used to tamper the results are baseless, officials said.

The Comelec, Larrazabal said, is also preparing to decommission the five printers leased from Smartmatic-TIM once the printing of the ballots has been completed.

Melo will seal the machines and delete the files containing the ballot formats, Larrazabal said. “These procedures are to ensure that no files will be leaked,” he said.

“We are doing this so they won’t say that we are printing extra ballots,” Melo added.

Unfounded fears

Also Tuesday, Press Secretary Crispulo Icban Jr., backed the call of former Comelec Chair Christian Monsod for critics to stop heckling the poll body on its capability to manage the balloting.

Icban described as “unfounded” speculation about election failure. He pointed out that a recent survey showed that 80 percent of the people believe the automated polls was much better and easier to do than manual elections. With a report from Christine O. Avendaño

Only quake can stop May polls, says Melo

Only quake can stop May polls, says Melo
By Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—The automated election system is so foolproof it can’t be hacked and only a massive earthquake can stop the May 10 balloting, Election Chair Jose Melo said Tuesday.

Melo and Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr., chair of the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms, said that it was virtually impossible to cheat electronically in the first nationwide computerized voting.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) chief also gave a “zero percent” possibility of a failure of elections.

“I don’t entertain that idea. If there will be one, it means the Philippines was rocked by an earthquake just like other countries,” he said.

Melo and Locsin visited the Cabuyao, Laguna, warehouse where the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines to be used in the polling and the ballots printed by the National Printing Office were stored.

“If I will corrupt the system or hack, I’d be better off just buying the election. So why cheat? If you’ve already spent a lot, just buy the elections and you’re sure to win,” Melo said in an interview after a hearing on the status of the preparations for the elections.

Melo said that even if Sen. Manny Villar had all the money, he could not buy everything. He could not buy out his closest rival and end up being the only candidate.

“That will be a huge amount even if you have the money,” he said.

“I urge candidates who want to cheat, just buy off the voters because you cannot cheat through the machines. The only problem with buying voters is they don’t like to stay bought. Just take the wonderful advice of the saintly and beloved Cardinal Sin, take the money and vote your conscience. I don’t think he should have said that,” Locsin said.

He said candidates should not be fooled by people claiming they could do an “electronic Garci” because it could not be done. “They would be lying,” Locsin said.

The Makati city representative was referring to concerns about the possibility of a vote-padding controversy revealed in wiretapped conversations purportedly between President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.

Administration critics claim the wiretaps were evidence Ms Arroyo stole the 2004 presidential election, a charge she has denied.

36-digit encryption code

Melo said that Smartmatic used an encryption code containing 36 digits.

“Can you imagine that figure? I can only count to a trillion. You need a big amount of money and lot of time to hack just one PCOS. How can you hack 82,000?” Melo asked.

Locsin said that it was possible that one or three PCOS machines could break down but there were still more than 80,000 units that would be working to guarantee that there would be no nationwide breakdown.

He said the only hitch he could see was a deliberate attempt to sow confusion in the distribution of voter’s list in districts where a certain candidate had a poor chance of winning. He posed this query to the Comelec officials and he was not given a straight answer.

Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez said that while he was satisfied with the presentation of the poll automation provider and operator, Smartmatic-TIM, he remained skeptical on the speedy transmission of the results.

Suarez pointed out that the three mobile phone service operators had no coverage in 300 far-flung municipalities.

Results in 48 hours

Despite these fears, Melo said that the Comelec was confident that the election results would be known within 48 hours.

The Comelec also does not see any problem with voters registered in at least two different precincts because it expects most of them to vote only once.

Locsin said that the Comelec was virtually helpless in stopping this form of cheating.

“Everybody talks about double voting but these people want to vote only once but not in their district. They do it because they are paid to do it. If you try to go to the court to disenfranchise these voters, it’s hard. A court case can take up to 10 years,” Locsin said.

Melo said that “padded voter’s lists” were not a problem for the Comelec because it believed that a big percentage of the “double registrants” just made a mistake.

“For example, I was registered in San Juan and I went to Quezon City. I did not cancel my San Juan registration but it doesn’t mean I’ll vote in San Juan. Not all double-registrant people are ill-intentioned. A big percentage merely forgot to cancel their old registration,” Melo said.

Safeguards

Melo said the Comelec had put in place several measures to discourage double voting such as the biometrics registration (at least half of voters have their photos and thumbprints in the Comelec databank) and the indelible ink (the Comelec added more nitrate content to make it more difficult to wash off).

But Locsin said these measures would still not solve the problem of buying voters wholesale.

“If you know your district has been heavily voter-padded, you have to go out and bring the undecided voters for you. That’s life and no amount of automatic elections can override a person’s conscience,” Locsin said.

Kapatiran protest

The Ang Kapatiran Party, which if fielding Olongapo City Councilor John Carlos “JC” de los Reyes for president, has asked the Comelec office in San Juan City to investigate reports of double and multiple registrants.

AKP president Eric Manalang told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that in the 2007 elections, San Juan had 72,070 registered voters.

Since registration of new voters ended on Oct. 31 last year, the number had swelled to between 170,000 and 200,000, he said.

“This contradicts reports we have received from local officials that San Juan’s population is currently declining,” Manalang said.

San Juan is the only part of Metro Manila where AKP is fielding a mayoral candidate, Glenn Angeles. With a report from Jerome Aning

Configuration of PCOS machines starts

Configuration of PCOS machines starts
By Sheila Crisostomo
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The configuration of the 76,340 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines started yesterday afternoon in order to meet the April 25 deadline, said Louie Campo, manager of the Smartmatic-Total Information Management Corp. (TIM) warehouse in Cabuyao, Laguna.

Campo told reporters during the inspection of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) for poll automation at the National Printing Office (NPO) in Quezon City and at Cabuyao warehouse that at least 2,000 machines will be configured in a day. The 5,860 spare machines will not yet be configured.

Campo noted that experts from Power Serve Inc. are doing the configuration with Comelec personnel.

Meanwhile, Sen. Francis Escudero, a staunch critic of the automated elections who co-chairs the JCOC with Makati Rep. Teddyboy Locsin, was a no-show when they were supposed to check on preparations for the automation.

Locsin assailed his colleagues, saying, “I don’t think they should open their mouths about any aspect of the printing and the machines since they did not even show up.”

According to Locsin, the JCOC had decided on the inspection to get a look at the preparations being undertaken by the Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM.

“We want to see the whole process, the machines in Cabuyao, the actual printing, the integrity of the ballots. We want to know because this is where cheating was done in the past. That’s why we are here,” he added. – With Delon Porcalla

‘Burn all ballots without seals’

‘Burn all ballots without seals’
By Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Burn the ballots!

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) should destroy the 1.8 million ballots that did not have the National Printing Office (NPO) security markings on them to erase lingering doubts that there is a sinister plan to undermine the May 10 polls, Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Thursday.

The Makati City congressman told reporters that the burning of the ballots for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) should be done in public.

“It should be destroyed in front of you people … to remove the last piece of doubt. It’s a nice gesture,” said Locsin, cochair of the joint congressional oversight committee for the automated elections.

Officials said that the ballots for the ARMM did not have the NPO marks because they were incompatible with the alignment design.

However, officials of the Comelec and its automation partner Smartmatic-TIM said that the NPO markings were redundant because there were other security features in the ballots that made them tamper-proof.

History of fraud

Other ballots to be used outside of the ARMM, however, will carry the NPO security markings.

Several poll watchdogs have protested the lack of NPO markings on the ballots for ARMM, which has a history of election fraud.

Lanao del Norte Rep. Abdullah Dimaporo said he was not worried about the ARMM ballots.

“Whether it should be reprinted or not, it does not matter as long as they went through the security measures,” he said.

Comelec Chair Jose Melo said he did not favor the destruction of the ARMM ballots, calling it a “drastic” measure.

Melo said the ballots were already packed and ready for shipment and burning them would set back the election timetable.

Since the printing started on Feb. 7, the NPO has produced 6 million ballots, Melo said. There are 50.7 million voters who registered to participate in the elections.

The Comelec on Thursday disclosed that Smartmatic-TIM would buy another printing machine to add to the four presses at the NPO to ensure that the ballots will be finished by April 25.

Locsin said the committee members who saw the printing process and the preparations of the Precinct Count Optical Scan machines in Smartmatic-TIM’s warehouse in Cabuyao, Laguna, were pleased with the arrangements.

Satisfactory

Locsin said he was “astounded” at the security inside the NPO. He said he was confident that it would be nearly impossible to tamper with the ballots.

“It’s very satisfactory, given the amount of security,” he said. “I think it will make more sense to buy the votes than it is to corrupt the electoral process.”

Locsin said his only suggestion was to darken the outline of the oval space beside the candidates’ name to make it more reader-friendly in daylight.

Unlike in the past elections, in which voters write the names of their candidate, voters in the May 10 polls will get a printed ballot with the names of all the candidates and races for national and local positions.

To make their choice, voters will shade the oval space beside the name of their bets. The ballots will then be fed into a machine that will record the markings and generate a count at the end of the voting day.