Losing bidder warns of 'electronic dagdag-bawas'

by Aries Rufo, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak

Posted at Jun 02 2009 03:42 PM | Updated as of Jun 03 2009 01:12 AM

Is Smartmatic, the other half of the consortium that will likely automate next year’s polls, capable of electronic dagdag-bawas?  

This is essentially the question posed by one of the losing bidders, as it recalled an irregularity that occurred during last year’s elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), an anomaly which, it said, Smartmatic had failed to explain.
In a letter addressed to Comelec chair Jose Melo and Special Bids and Awards Committee (SBAC) chair Ferdinand Rafanan, Avante International Technology Inc. called their attention to an incident in Wao, Lanao del Sur during the August 21 ARMM polls.  
In the ARMM poll exercise, Smartmatic bagged the contract to provide the consolidating/canvassing and transmission technologies. In partnership with Strategic Alliance Holdings Inc (SAHI), Smartmatic also provided the Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) machines that were used in Maguindanao.
Avante, on the other hand, provided the Optical Machine Reader (OMR) machines for the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Shariff Kabunsuan.

The anomaly was first observed when the election returns (ERs) from the municipality of Bumbaran were being transmitted to the transmission server of Smartmatic.

The counting was done in Wao town, which served as the counting center for Wao and Bumbaran towns. After the machines finished the count, election ERs were generated, and these were, in turn, transmitted to the Smartmatic server for canvassing.  

Watchers, including a representative from the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), observed that six precincts in Bumbaran reflected zero votes.  

When the watchers double-checked the data with the ERs generated by Avante’s OMR, they found out that the six precincts in question actually had 100 percent voter turnout.
When told about the discrepancy, Smartmatic admitted that it had committed an error in its programming. Its transmission server had been programmed to accept only those data that do not exceed 200, which is the maximum number of registered voters in a precinct.

However, Smartmatic failed to include the three Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) in its programming. Thus, when the six precincts showed 203 votes, the server rejected the data. The transmission server was programmed to indicate zero if the maximum was exceeded.
Avante general manager Leo Querubin recalled that it was suggested to leave the matter “as it is” since the "missing" votes would not affect the results of the polls anyway. “The corrections can be done in Manila,” Querubin said.

Matching results
Yet, surprisingly, Smartmatic was able to update the ER in its transmission server and come up matching results even if the OMR was not connected to the consolidating server.

“As to how this was resolved was never properly explained to Avante and neither to election watchdogs in the field. Our fear is that there are people who actually have the capacity to manually input results into the consolidating systems,” Avante said in its letter.
“The implication of this is that the municipal servers may be remotely accessed and the results modified, which may be classified as electronic dagdag-bawas,” the firm warned.
Querubin told abs-cbnnews.com/Newsbreak that the poll body was informed about the incident, but failed to tackle the matter “because of the euphoria of the success of the ARMM elections.”

Referred to TWG
Sought for comment, Rafanan said he referred Avante’s letter to the technical working group (TWG) for their perusal. He also said the concerns raised—that a central server can change the contents of ER results through remote means—can be addressed in further tests to be conducted using the Smartmatic machine.
After the systems evaluation test and award of the contract to the Smartmatic/TIM consortium, Rafanan said its machines will be subjected to five more tests--1) laboratory; 2) acceptance; 3) mock elections; 4) transmissions; and, 5) final test and sealing--before the May 2010 polls.

But a member of the TWG explained to abs-cbnnews.com/Newsbreak that what Smartmatic only did to correct the anomaly was to “unblock” the results in the six precincts in question.

“The results were only stored in the transmission, and what they did was to unbar the data which were stored in its transmission server. There was no irregularity. It was not as if they encoded a new data,” the TWG member said.

No comment

We wrote Smartmatic last week to reply to our query, but as of this posting, we have yet to receive a response.

Meanwhile, the SBAC will submit today its recommendation to the Comelec en banc to award the automation project to Smartmatic/TIM after its machine was able to hurdle the 26 system evaluation tests, including the 99.995 accuracy rate.