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Grandstanding is the name of the game

From various news reports, one gathers that the Senate wanted to see for itself whether the PCOS (Precinct Count Optical Scan) machines of Smartmatic—which the Commission on Elections has been allowed to purchase in spite of the strong objections of independent election watchdogs and the IT community—were indeed “improved,” in the sense that all the “glitches” (the other side calls them “serious defects”) have been “addressed.”

And so Smartmatic was invited to the Senate, where a mock election was conducted, which would enable the senators to compare the PCOS count with a manual count. Smartmatic obliged, naturally, and brought a PCOS machine, whose count of the mock election votes indeed matched the manual count and was therefore judged 100-percent accurate.

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The counting accuracy was obviously enough for some senators, particularly one of my favorites, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile (JPE). He was quoted as saying that he was confident the Smartmatic machines that would be used in the 2013 elections were ready and tamperproof, that cheating would be “virtually impossible.” How does he know? Apparently not just because of the results of the PCOS demonstration, but also because “I asked people who are familiar with these machines and they said cheating is impossible. It will be an elaborate conspiracy if that happens.”

And as if to further reassure those still in doubt, Comelec Chair Sixto S. Brillantes (SSB) said he would create a “special committee” that would listen to (and hopefully address) concerns regarding the “technology aspect” of the equipment. Moreover, SSB assured all and sundry that Smartmatic would not be paid a single centavo until “we have examined and tested each and every machine,” which, he said, was what they were doing now.

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It all sounds so very reassuring, doesn’t it? Buttressed, as it were, by photographs that included PPCRV (Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting) Chair Tita de Villa, presumably to add even more credibility to the proceedings.

I am not impressed. A closer scrutiny of the above-mentioned proceedings and statements does not inspire confidence.

First, bringing a PCOS machine to demonstrate that it can count faster and as well as a manual count (as what was shown in the Senate hearing) is a world apart from testing the integrity of the machine (and of the system) and its ability to withstand hacking—which can take place not necessarily in the counting at the precinct level, but in the transmission and consolidation of the results. If cheating in a manual system can take place at both retail and wholesale levels, cheating in an automated system can also take place at both retail and wholesale levels—and the demonstration in the Senate did nothing to reassure anybody that this was indeed prevented in the 2010 elections and will be prevented in the 2013 elections.

And with only one machine—pre-selected at that—brought to the Senate to show how fast and accurate automated counting at the retail level is, there is no assurance that this machine is representative of the other 80,000 machines that the Comelec decided to buy.  What could and should have been done was to choose at random—blindly, as it were—from the warehouse (the selection being done not by Smartmatic but by, say, the Department of Science and Technology using statistical sampling methods). The chosen machines will then be brought to the Senate and used in the demonstration, so that their performance can be compared, not only in counting but in transmission and consolidation as well.

Second, with all due respect to JPE, I think he should give the names of the people who “are familiar with these machines,” whose opinions he asked and accepted as gospel. And they should be invited to the Senate to give their testimony, so we are assured of their credibility and expertise. Surely the impeachment trial taught everybody the value of this process.

Third, SSB’s “special committee” idea loses its reassuring qualities when one is reminded that the Comelec already has a special committee that was formed—by law, not just as SSB’s brainchild—to precisely discuss all these “technology aspects.” This is the Comelec Advisory Committee (CAC), chaired by the executive director of the Information and Technology Office of the DOST, with various members of the IT community, as well as election watchdogs. It is noteworthy that the CAC’s advice to the Comelec in the first place was NOT to use the Smartmatic PCOS machines, and that when the SSB Comelec disregarded the advice, tried to reduce the damage by recommending certain safeguards.

The point is, if SSB could blithely ignore the recommendations of the CAC, which has legal standing, and for that matter, the recommendations of the only Comelec commissioner (Gus Lagman) with IT expertise, what do you think are the chances for the special committee?

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Fourth, SSB’s  not-a-single-centavo-will-be-paid battle cry also rings hollow (although compared to JPE’s gung-ho, he is positively cynical) when juxtaposed with his insistence on Smartmatic, as well as with the news reports that Smartmatic is able to test 3,500 units a day—covering power source, LCD, CF card ports, thermal printer, scanning capacity UV sensor and modem transmission. An IT expert, whose name I will supply on request, e-mails that either they are using 450 technicians/testers a day, assuming that the testing takes one hour per machine (it will take 225 technicians at half an hour), or all that is being done is visual testing.

Bottom line: Grandstanding seems to be the name of the game. With photo ops.

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TAGS: 2013 Elections, Elections, Opinion. Get Real, PCOS Machines, politics, Senate, Solita Monsod
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