2010 Elections: AES: A Gathering Storm

IT Consultant, EU-CenPEG Project 3030 and
Convenor, AESWatch


MANILA — The cloud of doubt that hovers over the credibility and acceptability of the election results come May 10, 2010 has grown darker. The gathering storm has grown in strength with the questionable results generated by some 300 PCOS machines spread over various areas in Makati, Manila, Paranaque, Pasay, and in the province of Batangas.

On May 3, 2010, the final testing and sealing of the PCOS machines started. The activity was aimed at ensuring that the PCOS machines are working properly. Unfortunately, the activity delivered disastrous results. On examination of the machine count vis-à-vis the hand count, a wide disparity between the two results was found. The miscounts were observed mostly on the local contests, but varying in positions. In some cases, the votes, for example, for congressmen in a PCOS were counted, but not in a different PCOS.

In an innocent, sort of naïve, review and analysis of what might have happened, the source of the error points to incorrect precinct-ballot configuration data.

Making the Malicious Mind Work

Some quarters believe that a cheating logic might have been inadvertently triggered on the day of the test. The trigger has not been identified. However, that the miscounts should happen at the PCOS level, it is argued, is proof of the presence of a digital Garci only this time at a distributed scale.

On review of the results of the machine and manual count, some votes for candidates in a contest were credited to another candidate, perhaps the favored candidate?

Entertaining the Thought of a Digital Garci

Stepping back to see the whole forest leads to taking into account the field tests, mock election exercises, and demonstrations. In these activities, the problems encountered were ballot rejections and difficulty in transmitting the results. Disparities in the same scale as the May 3, 2010 results were never observed, in particular, the end-to-end demonstration of the automated election system conducted at the Senate on March 25, 2010. The minds of the observers were conditioned to think that the AES is already operational and ready to be deployed. Never mind the flaws.

So, with the AES ready, all it needed was the deployment of the machines and election paraphernalia to many points in the country, including in those areas where technology has little or no presence, and to conduct the final testing and sealing of the machines 3 to 7 days before the elections.

Then, the May 3, 2010 incident occurred. How could this have happened? It will be recalled that in the previous mock polls, no such disparity between the PCOS machine vote count and manual vote count were observed. Yet, on May 3, 2010 the final testing and sealing went awry.

With an evil mind, think – can somebody within the Comelec and/or Smartmatic-TIM organization who has been compromised insert a malicious code designed to manipulate the vote counts into the election management system (EMS) which is used to prepare the precinct-ballot configuration data to be stored in a CF Card?

International research data shows that illegal access to systems, data theft, and data manipulation occur from the inside, that is, perpetrators are insiders. Insiders are the ones who have the opportunity to do such tasks. All that they need is some motive to execute the task.

Examine the whole process. The ballots will be scanned using the PCOS. The PCOS will count and tally the votes. It will generate the election returns and print it, then transmit them to the first level of canvassing and consolidation which is at the city or municipality. Then, they will move on to provincial or district canvassing and consolidation servers until finally on to the national canvassing and consolidation servers.

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