Call for poll machines source code review mounts


Posted at Aug 24 2009 06:57 PM | Updated as of Aug 25 2009 03:02 AM

MANILA - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Monday said it will release the source code of the Smartmatic-TIM Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines for review to political parties as well as an internationally accredited body chosen by the poll body.

Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento said that under Republic Act 9369, or the Poll Automation Law, political parties and interested groups can review the source code to check the PCOS and Consolidation Canvassing System (CCS) programs.

"This will be very transparent. The Comelec will be very open. We want the elections to be very open, very transparent and open to the public. If we hide [the source code], it will affect the credibility of the elections," Sarmiento told ANC.

The commissioner said the poll body is still waiting for Smartmatic-TIM to turn over the source code so that it could be opened for review. He said Smartmatic-TIM is contractually obligated to turn over the source code despite it being owned by Canada’s Dominion Voting Systems.

He also pointed out that the automated system allows political parties to manually review the vote count at the precinct level since counting machines will churn out 30 hard copies of the election return.

Various groups have called for an immediate review of the machine source code amid fears that the actual counting could be rigged electronically. A request by the Center for People Empowerment and Governance (CenPEG) for the release of the source code was approved by the poll body in an en banc resolution issued in June.

Dr. Pablo Manalastas, CenPEG’s IT Consultant, claimed both Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM are engaged in “delaying tactics." He said this supports “our suspicion that the consortium may have only a binary-level license of the election programs, and our further suspicion that they do not have a source-level license, and so cannot produce the source code for our review.”

Manalastas, former chair of Ateneo de Manila University’s IT department and a lecturer at UP’s computer science, reminded the Comelec that it is mandated by the election modernization law to release the source code immediately.

Source code audit

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said IT experts would need at least two to three months to conduct a proper source code audit.

"The source code has to be reviewed now. If there is a defect, we cannot use it. If we find say, a line of code that says for every 100 votes for candidate A, put it to candidate B, that cannot be - dapat may changes. If we can't fix it in time, what will happen to the elections?" he asked.

He also cited various scenarios such as possible hacking during transmission of the results and the invasion of computer viruses in the machines. Other scenarios include "undetectable" tampering of the vote tallies by Smartmatic officers.

Colmenares voiced concern that the automated count would not be as transparent as the manual count since all the counting is done by the machine. He also pointed out that doing a manual count of the ballots submitted on election day would be difficult since a candidate must file an election protest before Comelec accesses the ballot.

Despite his fears, the party-list lawmaker said he still wanted poll automation to push through next year. "We don't want manual. What we need is transparent elections with secret voting and public counting," he said.

Sarmiento, meanwhile, said the Comelec has been deluged with requests to attend various fora to explain the poll automation process. "Honestly, we are overwhelmed with this avalanche of concerns but we believe it a healthy sign that a lot of people are concerned about poll automation," he said .

Chiz stands by plea to junk Smartmatic-TIM contract

Opposition Sen. Francis Escudero on Monday said he disagrees with the Senate’s position asking the High Court to reject the petition against Comelec’s awarding of the contract to Smartmatic-TIM.

“With due respect to Senate President Enrile, I submit that pilot testing of these machines should be done in-country to make sure that they can function effectively and efficiently given our  conditions,” said the 39-year old lawmaker, who co-chairs the congressional oversight committee on the automation of the 2010 elections.

“The successful use of an automated counting machine in another country cannot sufficiently validate usability in our country. Besides, this is a customized version that the winning bidder is using for the first time,” he said.

In a comment-in-intervention, the Senate has asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the suit filed by concerned citizens to void the P7.2 billion contract because the Comelec violated the poll automation law by failing to conduct pilot testing of the counting machines to be used in the 2010 elections.

The Smartmatic–TIM group has said it had undertaken a similar project in Venezuela from 2008 to 2009 to justify its argument that the machines to be used had demonstrated its capability and success in a foreign electoral exercise.

Pilot testing

The Comelec will use 82,200 PCOS machines which will be used for the first time in the country. Under Section 6 of RA 9369, the machines should be pilot tested in at least two highly urbanized cities and two provinces each in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

 “Time and time again, I have welcomed full automation of our electoral process. But we must deliberately calibrate its implementation in accordance with the law, and especially because of the particular set of circumstance that we have at this time,” he said.

Escudero called on Comelec to report on the progress of the election automation project even as it awaits the decision of the Supreme Court on the petition.

“It’s been sometime since we’ve heard from the Comelec about the state of preparations for the 2010 elections,” Escudero said. “Regardless of the forthcoming SC decision, the Comelec must regularly inform the people on the current status of the project."