Smartmatic machines vulnerable to manipulation?

>> Friday, February 19, 2016

Alfred P. Dizon

As this paper goes to press, the Commission on Elections is set to hold simulated elections in 20 cities and towns across the country, covering more than 25,000 registered voters.
Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said the mock elections would provide the poll body the opportunity to correct or improve the procedure at the polling and canvassing centers during the elections. If the Comelec won’t be able to fix these problems like glitches of Smartmatic machines, expect chaos come election time. We could have a president elected not by popular vote by machines manipulated to come out with results in favor of candidates.
“Through these mock elections, we can see which aspects of the elections need to be enhanced, corrected or improved so that on May 9, we can have a smooth and orderly election,” he said.
Among the barangays where the mock elections would take place are Tuktukan and Western Bicutan in Taguig City, Poblacion and Aguho in Pateros, Bagong Pag-asa and San Isidro Labrador in Quezon City, and 669 and 649 in Manila.
Other barangays where the simulated polls would take place are Poblacion Oeste and Pugaro in Dagupan City as well as Poblacion and Linmansangan in Alaminos, both in Pangasinan; Centro 1 (Poblacion) and Nambalan Norte in Tuguegarao City as well as Centro 1 (Poblacion) and Paddaya in Aparri, both in Cagayan; Poblacion and Osiao in Sorsogon City; and Camcaman and Calintaan in Matnog, also in Sorsogon, Albay.
The others are Barangays Poblacion and Linabuan in Kalibo, Aklan; Poblacion and Balabag in Malay, also in Aklan; Mabolo and Lusaran in Cebu City; Poblacion and Cabutongan in Santander, Cebu; Central and Sinaman in Dipolog City, Zamboanga del Norte; Poblacion and Tinaplan in Sindangan, Zamboanga del Norte; Dadiangas East and San Jose in General Santos City; Libertad and Canahay (Godwino) in Surallah, South Cotabato; San Raymundo and Tulay in Jolo, and Malinis and Parangbasak in Lamitan City, Basilan.
Through these exercises, the Comelec said it intends to test and ensure adequate security, accuracy, system and functional capability and integrity of the vote counting machines, transmission devices and consolidation and canvassing system.  
The Comelec is also aiming to simulate the process of election, deployment, actual voting and consolidation of votes, as well as transmission procedures and “to develop public confidence and acceptance of the automated election system.”
The Comelec earlier hinted that some precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines were malfunctioning and failing to correctly read the ballots and may have been a result of a glitch in the source code.
The new vote-counting machines were reportedly rejecting one to two percent of the ballots during tests.
This was reportedly caused by an “overly sensitive self-diagnosing mechanism” of the VCM that was designed to prevent a repeat of the digital lines that appeared on the ballots in the 2013 elections.
Bautista said there should be no cause for concern in spite of the current technical issues.
“The problems have been contained. It is good that we discover these things now than later when we could no longer correct or improve them,” he said.
With 88 days before the polls, there is still time to fix these problems, the Comelec said.
The Comelec was supposed to start printing ballots last Monday, but postponed this to Feb. 15 after the poll body discovered that it needed to rebuild the source code for the election management system. This as the Supreme Court has yet to rule on the eligibility of Sen. Grace Poe whether she can run or not. Will the Comelec still print the names of top candidates in the ballots san an SC ruling? 
The National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections on Tuesday said the Comelec is behind schedule in the printing of ballots, and compounding the delay with other technical problems may force the poll body to suspend elections in some regions or localities.
This, as  Senate President Franklin Drilon slammed the Comelec for creating an atmosphere of fear based on unfounded assumptions that elections will not push through in some areas in the country.
“I don’t know what they are talking about, the glitches. This is something that can be addressed immediately so that the election will not be postponed,” Drilon said in a press dispatch.
Less than three months before the May 9 polls, more errors have been discovered in the source codes of the automated election system (AES).
Bautista said SLI Global Solutions Inc. notified the Comelec that there were problems with the source codes of the consolidation and canvassing system (CCS) and the vote counting machines (VCM).
Based in Denver, SLI was contracted by Comelec to certify the source codes of the VCM, CCS and Election Management System (EMS) before they are put together for use in the coming polls.
Last Monday, Comelec had to postpone depositing the source codes at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas after SLI detected compatibility problems in the CCS. 
SLI found that while the CCS had to be “stand alone,” the system was found to be “network dependent.” This prompted the Comelec to re-do the “trusted build” of the EMS, which serves as the brain of the entire system.
Just like the VCM, the CCS was supplied by the joint venture of Smartmatic. According to SLI senior test manager Michael Santos, the firm also found that the ISO image in the CCS source code could not be installed during the trusted build process.
“That necessitates a rebuild of the trusted build of the CCS ISO image. We don’t see it actually during the build process itself but once we got done building that image, we sent it to the laboratory, we went to install it and realized there was an issue,” Santos explained.
During the testing of the VCM, SLI also found that it could detect even small ink spots, causing the machines to reject the ballots. The VCM posted one- to two-percent rejection rate.
“Just a couple of spots in the ballots, the VCM detecting them and rejecting them, which is a good thing because it is showing that it’s capable enough to catch just about any mark,” Santos said.
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez maintained that the issue should not be a cause of concern. Jimenez said that to address the problem, the threshold of the sensitivity of the VCM would be adjusted.
Bautista explained the Comelec could not turn off the detection feature of the VCM as it was meant to address the problems on digital lines, which he described as a “dangerous ailment” that surfaced on the ballots in the 2013 elections. 
He gave assurance that the Comelec would be reviewing its contact with Smartmatic-TIM to determine if the joint venture can be held liable for the errors.
The Comelec chief also maintained that despite the technical issues in the machines, there is no cause for concern.
“The problems have been contained. It is good that we discover these things now than later when we could no longer correct or improve them,” he said.
Bautista expressed confidence that the printing of official ballots would be completed by April 25 as scheduled since the ballots would be shorter by four inches, from 27 inches in 2013 elections.
“We are just fine-tuning the system… we still have 88 days. We still have time. The problems now are still manageable,” he added.

That is what the Comelec is saying. But when poll day comes and problems such as reliability of Smartmatic machines is still in question, what will the big shots at Comelec do?


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