Doubts linger

WHEN the automated election was introduced in 2010, the quick counting and transmission of the results received general approval. Questions about the outcome were practically drowned out by public support. There were glitches, but they were explained that nothing is perfect but in general the results were credible.

By 2013, reports of the source code being peddled by hackers came out and indeed several candidates who lost heavily could not but suspect that computers as the receiving and counting machines had been tampered with. In fact, investigations into the issue came out with the suspension that Smartmatic had either been infiltrated with crooks or the government had allowed the tampering of the machines.

Now more information had emerged questioning the credibility of the 2019 elections. The defeat of the entire opposition slate is unbelievable. Senator Grace Poe took the second slot but at the top nevertheless because she could not be junked without a national upheaval. She at least gave credence to the elections.

Several Catholic bishops in the Philippines had called for a delay in the proclamation of the winning senators until the issues are cleared but their suggestion went nowhere except to support those who question the credibility of the last election, at least on the senatorial level. The Commission on Election ignored their appeal.

Instead the Comelec declared the elections a success and brushed off the allegations as negligible, but the suspicions of illicit hands tinkering with the machines to give more votes to the favored remain.

A major complaint came from the party list candidates because of the positioning of their names at the reverse side of the ballots that misled the voters to think that there was only one page. No instructions were given; perhaps in others but in most there was none.

The Comelec showed on television that the paper and the marking pen used were qualified with the standard. This means that the pen will not smudge at the reverse side of the ballot. This also means that the ballot paper must be thick enough to avoid smearing the other side. This smudge can affect the marking made on the other side since the machine reads according to the marks it detects.

Because of this, many did not mark their votes on the party list side as it might affect their votes for the regular candidates.

The winners are asking the nation to accept the results so that we can move on. That is fine with the winners, but not for the losers and the voters who believe that they were cheated of their votes. There are calls for a congressional investigation. There may be one or none at all, but we have had these investigations every after elections and Comelec went through the motions to correct their mistakes. Not only that nothing happened to remove the suspicions against tampering of the automated machines, but the suspicions of electoral fraud increased.

Computers can be hacked. Even the most safeguarded computers had been manipulated to produce a desire result. Intelligence branches of governments and industries do this as they do with breakfast. Money launderers and top level criminals are into this kind of war despite the continuous effort of the targeted agencies to protect their data.

Elections are high stakes activities. Even now the US Congress is investigating their 2016 election on the suspicion that Russia intervened. The US government is also investigating Huawei on suspicions of using their gadgets – computers and cellphones as instruments of espionage.

The point in citing these is to underscore the fact that our automated voting machine are not tamper proof or that those who have the source code have not sold their secret to politicians.

These are difficult to prove because they leave no trail. We can only study the results and make a conclusion but even these cannot stand in court.

There are now proposals to return to manual voting and manual counting of votes but retain the system of transmission. In the past, the two phases – voting and counting – did not have much problem except for terrorism and slow counting. It was in the transfer of the results of the counting from the precinct to the municipal hall that allowed the switching of results.

No matter what mechanisms and processes we use, everything boils to honesty and that is what this country lacks.