Smartmatic admission of 'innocent' program errors alarms lawmakers

by Carmela Fonbuena,

Posted at May 26 2010 09:26 PM | Updated as of May 27 2010 06:35 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Congress, sitting as the National Board of Canvassers, resumed session on Wednesday afternoon but not a single vote was counted. 
Day 2 of the joint session was instead spent grilling officials of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and election automation system provider Smartmatic on the authenticity of the results of the recent national polls.
The admission of Smartmatic Asia-Pacific president Cesar Flores of innocent program errors caused concerns that there may have also been program errors in computing the votes.
Among the errors uncovered so far:
1.The Canvassing and Consolidation System-- the server that receives the electronic certificates of canvass for president and vice-president--that was sent to the House of Representatives showed a bloated number of registered voters. 
When the machine was initialized, House and Senate staff discovered that the machine showed a total of 256 million registered voters.
2.The Election Returns in some localities showed time stamps as early as April 27, suggesting that voting happened before the May 10 elections.
"There could have been voting prior to May 10, but they could not transmit results," said Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri.
Bloated numbers
Flores admitted that an "error in the application" caused the bloated number of registered voters. Instead of adding the registered voters per precinct, the application added the registered voters in the precinct, municipal, and provincial levels.
"The number of voters was multiplied by 5--our mistake," Flores said. The actual number of registered voters in the Philippines is 51.3 million.
Flores assured that computer glitch was limited to the number of registered voters. "The only variable affected is the number of registered votes. It does not alter the votes itself," he said.
But the lawmakers were wary.
"There is an error already from the very start. Is it not possible that there will be an error in the computation of votes?" said Maguindanao Rep. Didagen Dilangalen. 
"We want an assurance that the program was not corrupted. If there was an error, it gives us the impression that the program inserted therein may have been a wrong program. That is the most important machine today. It will be the basis of our canvass. Imagine, the most important machine is wrong?" said House Speaker Prospero Nograles.
"He [Flores] said there is nothing wrong with the PCOS. But in effect, there could have been something wrong with the transmission of the contents of the PCOS machines. I'd like to ask, who made the mistake? So that we can sanction him if necessary--in the interest of national welfare," said Senate minority leader Senator Aquilino Pimentel.
Flores responded: "My personnel. There is a group of programmers."
Early voting?
The time stamps, on the other hand, were a result of the clock of the PCOS machines going wrong, Flores said.
While he said early voting could have happened if the people in charge of the machines allowed it, there was a procedure during Election Day to make sure that the PCOS machines start from zero.
"We are not responsible for the way Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) use the machines.... If the machines are delivered, the ballots are there, are there are no watchers, the same as the manual elections, you can do those things," Flores said.
"Is it possible that people who control the machines can vote prior to May 10? When the machines are opened on actual voting on May 10, what will happen to the votes cast prior to May 10? Would that be recorded already? If it is possible that election be made, ballots can be put inside the machine by people who have control over the machines, then the due execution and authenticity of the same would be questionable," said Nograles.
But Flores said there is a protocol on Election Day that the PCOS machines should be initialized before BEIs and poll watchers to show that nothing was stored inside the machine. 

"More importantly, let's remember that the ballots are precinct-specific. The only ballots that the machine can read are the ballots belonging to the precinct," said Flores. – Newsbreak