The think tank Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) today warned that election cheating has gone from bad to worse and poll automation is powerless against it. It called on thousands of citizens’ poll watchers to conduct evidence-based Bantay Presinto, Bantay PCOS, Bantay Salakay (Precinct Watch, PCOS Watch, Vote-Buying Watch).
Speaking through its Director for Policy Studies, Bobby M. Tuazon, CenPEG called on poll watchers to anticipate a big number of voting machine malfunctions, transmission glitches, queuing gridlocks, and power outages, among other troubles. This scenario, CenPEG said, is expected to happen based on ground reports gathered by researchers and monitors of the Automated Election System Watch (AES Watch) who covered the final testing and sealing (FTS) from May 2-10.
Aside from the FTS findings, Tuazon said, major technical failures are expected to happen “in the absence of end-to-end tests, insufficient mock elections, the low accuracy rating of the Smartmatic-marketed technology (97% versus the mandated 99.995%), and lack of contingencies.” All these are apart from the programming errors that will manifest on election day in terms of data discrepancies, machine-ballot mismatches, and counting inaccuracies that were not addressed since 2010 due to the lack of source code review and the disabling of major safeguards and security features, Tuazon said.
But vote buying has likewise gone from bad to worse, Tuazon said. Reports from poll watchers received by AES Watch today said vote buying has become “massive, bolder, and openly brazen with voters themselves lining up publicly to receive envelopes containing money in the guise of poll watch fees.” While in previous elections vote buying was pegged from P50-P100 per voter, now it fetches up to P500-P1,000 in some provinces or up to P2,000 per voter in some cities such as in Pangasinan, reports said.
In Camarines Sur, another report said, “Mother’s Day” and “birthday” are used to cover up the herding of big numbers of voters for meals, drinking, and money inside hotels, beach resorts, and even schools lasting until election day. In other provinces, such as Palawan, vote buying and “partying” are taking place at cockpits.
Vote buying has turned from bad to worse not only because the May 13 mid-term election is critical to the 2016 presidential derby but because local elections have become more intense, Tuazon.
“Today, unprecedented huge numbers of members of the country’s political clans are vying for elective positions, with many of them pitting from 20 to 80 members for various positions ranging from congressional to provincial and local posts and distributing them across regions, provinces, and several towns. Their agenda is to expand and consolidate dynastic rule over wider areas,” he said. “There is more heat and even bloodshed in dynastic feuds as families fight not only for political dominance and public funds but also over competing business interests. In some cities, local mall owners have father- or mother-child tandems running for mayor and vice-mayor against similar slates of opposing parties.”
But initial FTS results gathered by AES Watch from May 2-10, Tuazon said, also showed tell-tale signs of possible tampering of election paraphernalia such as missing or tampered machine seals, incomplete instruments, delayed or non-delivery of precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines, failure of some PCOS sets to re-zero, and CF cards undetected by machines.
Comelec’s FTS schedule shows that out of 77,829 clustered precincts only an insignificant number of these were randomly selected for the FTS leaving a huge vacuum of uncertainties on how the rest of the PCOS machines deployed will perform on election day. Yet of the few selected FTS areas, a big number of PCOS machines failed to function with several others recalled for replacement, Tuazon said.
The transmission system is a huge vulnerability on election day. This is because, Tuazon said, the transmission of election returns to the canvassing and consolidation centers and other destinations has never been tested adequately or addressed significantly despite transmission failures during the Feb. 2 mock elections. Comelec also refused to conduct another round of mock polls, and did not include transmission tests during FTS operations last week. In May 2010, CenPEG documented a huge number of PCOS transmission failures due to connectivity problems whether accidental or deliberate – from 30% to even 60% of clustered precincts – forcing BEIs to bring the machines and CF cards to canvassing centers. “This part of the chain of custody where PCOS machines and CF cards are transported to canvassing centers by road, waters, and mountain trails is vulnerable to fraud,” he said.
To address quick reaction remedies, Tuazon said, CenPEG has released its 12 ALERTS to help guide the voters and watchers on what to guard against during Election Day at the poll precincts.
By and large, the election outcome will be decided by widespread vote buying especially in local positions and poll automation will not be able to deter that, Tuazon said. But the election results will still generate an unprecedented number of election protests because of the flawed process. Comelec failed to comply with several provisions of RA 9369 such as the source code review and the disabling of major safeguards and security features such as verifiability and digital signature aside from using rewritable and replaceable CF cards which is open to fraud.