Archive for the ‘2010’ Category

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Do not disappoint

In 2010,Automation,COMELEC on 29 August 09 by jimenez

I was at a radio station today, fielding questions about automation, and I noticed something very interesting. Most of the callers and texters wanted to know how the process works. They were very eager to understand how automation promises to change the voting experience. In marked contrast, the questions coming from the hosts were focused almost exclusively on what could go wrong.

It was, needless to say, a schizophrenic experience.

But an important lesson too. The people, it seems, are truly ready for this change and the fear that some quarters claim is widespread, is nothing of the sort.

Unfortunately, those who are supposed to be in a better position to intelligently handle their apprehensions – which are, after all, a normal aspect of any major change – seem to be the ones proving to be quite unable to. They latch on to the vague and half-explained scenarios of doom as though they were repeating gospel truth; they scare themselves sleepless worrying about concepts they do not even completely grasp simply because this expert or that PhD., seemed to be worried even more and, well, God-forbid that we be considered bumpkins because we didn’t fear the same things these sophisticates are all a-tremble over.

And so, you have lawyers and businessmen, judges and academics, all spouting the same half-truths and misrepresentations being peddled by those who would see the country yet again prevented from discarding a flawed electoral system.

They often preface their attacks with “I’m in favor of automation, what assurance can you offer that  ….” insert doomsday scenario here. The funny thing is, when provided with explanations and assurances they cannot poke holes in, they end up waving it off and resorting to their ultimate fall-back – “we can’t trust the COMELEC.”

Even funnier, some take issue with the fact that explanations are forthcoming. Those people leave me scratching my head. I’m like, so you would prefer it if we didn’t have an answer to your concerns? But then again those are the people who convince me that theirs is not to really improve the plan through principled and constructive criticism, but rather to tear it down by endlessly repeating their shibboleths until ordinary people can no longer distinguish between what they’re saying and what the truth is.

Sadly, these people who can no longer distinguish between what is for real and what are scare-tactics include critical decision makers and influencers and shapers of opinion. These people who, because of what they represent in society, are supposed to be able to think more clearly and to see better when the need for audacity outweighs timorous quivering. Instead, they seems to be all rushing to the forefront of the retreat from the future.

Thankfully, they seem to be doing all the retreating all by themselves. Out in the streets, in the schools, in the business establishments, in the various forums, people are excited about automation. They want to see it happen. They are eager for this next step. The challenge for the COMELEC therefore, is very simple.

Do not disappoint.

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La Verdad

In 2010,Automation on 24 August 09 by jimenez Tagged: , , ,

In an article out of the VERA files, Garcillano is once again being invoked as a boogeyman to spook the people into rejecting the automation of the 2010 elections. I’ve linked to the article, so I’ll just go straight into it and offer up a few clarifications.

Manaslatas laid out the possible scenarios: What if the two special felt-tip pens allotted per precinct dry up before voting ends and voters have nothing to write their choices with? What if the counting machine gets jammed when ballots are being fed to it? What if the local GPRS connection is bad and slows the transmission of the results from the precincts to the municipal or city canvassers? Or what if someone snatches the laptop computer at the canvassing center?

Seriously? Felt-tip pens running dry are gonna muck up the elections? It seems to me unfortunate that Dr. Manalastas thinks that the COMELEC is so benighted that we would willingly let the election be hostage to dried up magic markers.

He then asks, what about jammed counting machines? The COMELEC’s continuity plan, presented to the Senate and the Supreme Court, features a machine replacement protocol that calls for the defective or malfunctioning PCOS to be replaced within two hours from the time the decision to replace the unit was made.

Bad GPRS connection? Again, the COMELEC’s deployment plan provides for redundancies such that if one mode of transmission fails an alternate mode kicks in. In any case, signal strength fluctuates, yes? It is highly possible that the poor signal you’re cussing out now will pick up in a few minutes, so this isn’t really a major cause of concern. And as for a laptop being snatched from the canvassing center … a canvassing center is more secure than a bank, what with the press of human bodies all eager to witness the canvassing. And anyway, in the unlikely event that something of the sort does happen, Dr. Manalastas forgets that there is a back-up set of data – whether they be election returns or municipal or provincial reports – in the COMELEC central server and the servers of the citizen’s arm, the dominant majority and minority, the KBP, and on the public website. Snatching the canvassing laptops only delays the process. It. is. not. fatal.

But these scenarios aren’t as worrisome as what else could happen: The whole system could be rigged, and all computers—from those at the precincts all the way to those at the Commission on Elections and Congress that will canvass the results for the senatorial and presidential elections—could be pre-programmed to make certain candidates win.

How could this happen?

The Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines could arrive at the precincts with prepared ballot images and election results already inputted into the system, and the computers for canvassing with prepared Certificates of Canvass (COC) and Statements of Votes (SOVs). And at any stage of the elections, someone who has the root password could log into the system from a remote site and control the canvassing computers—and the canvassers wouldn’t even know. This could happen as early as municipal canvassing because the computer will stay connected to the network for 24 to 72 hours via modem starting at 6 p.m. of election day.

In brief, Dr. Manalastas posits that: first,  the PCOS might arrive at the polling places pre-loaded with results – kinda like a new Mac; and second, that someone can log into the canvassing computers and monkey with the results.

As to the first, Dr. Manalastas forgets that COMELEC procedure calls for the run-through of the system very close to election day during which it will be demonstrated that the machines have nothing pre-loaded in them. The machines are then physically sealed and kept under 24-hour guard to make sure that no one gets the opportunity to do anything with them. Then, on election day itself, the PCOS will be made to print out an initialization report – again to prove that there are no pre-loaded results in them.

As to the second, Dr. Manalastas posits that someone can remotely control the canvassing system, effectively possessing the things and, I don’t know, making them spit out funky numbers or something. Fortunately, this is highly unlikely.

The building blocks of election results are the election returns. Those come from the precincts. The canvassing centers only add up the election returns. Very simple maths.

Now, if some remote controller did exist and if he did get access to the canvassing computers, all he can really do is funk up the way the addition is being done at that level. He can’t do anything to the election returns. Why? Because the PCOS won’t be connected to the network except for the two-minutes it takes to transmit election results to: the municipal canvassing center, the provincial canvassing center, the COMELEC central back-up server, the servers of the … you know the drill.

HACK

So, even if a haxxor did get into the canvassing system, he still wouldn’t be able to affect the building blocks of the final election results – the election returns – and a faithful canvass will still be achievable via the multiple parallel transmissions made from the precinct. In fact, as Dr. Manalastas himself said:

Because the PCOS machines will be stand-alones during elections and will only be connected via modem when voting has ended, Manalastas said external hacking will be difficult.

But still, Dr. Manalastas’ fears persist.

Comelec required Smartmatic-TIM to generate 246,6000 pairs of private and public keys or digital signatures, a security feature, for all members of the Board of Election Inspectors and Board of Canvassers. The public keys will be issued to the election personel, but Smartmatic gets to keep the private keys.

“By having possession of private keys, Smartmatic can make changes in the precinct ERs without anyone knowing,” Manalastas warned.

He said Smartmatic or Comelec could prepare precinct ERs with the counts for every candidate and could sign these with the private keys a few days before election and leave these in the PCOS machines.  “When they deliver to the precincts, tapos na ang eleksiyon (the election is over),” he said.

To reiterate, pre-fabricated ERs are not gonna pop-up because of the procedures that the PCOS have to go through before actual election day operation. And hacking cannot insinuate a pre-fab ER into the canvassing process either, because the election returns are sent out to multiple recipients. So, a fake ER will be very obviously that: a fake. And an obvious fake is pretty pointless.

The IT consultant also revealed the lack of a program verifier and a file verifier in the PCOS and CCS.

The program verifier checks if the election programs installed in the computers are indeed the originally approved programs. The file verifier, on the other hand, checks if there are prepared ballot images, precinct ERs, COCs and SOVs.

Again, this objection proceeds from the presumption that the PCOS will arrive at the polling places pre-loaded with winners. Hence, the need for program verifiers and file verifiers. But again, seeing as how the machines will be made to prove the ’emptiness’ of their memories before they are used on election day, these things that Dr. Manalastas bewail the lack of might not be all that crucial.

Manalastas said the Comelec also chose to disable a feature in the PCOS that would allow the voter to verify his or her vote before casting even when the poll automation law specifies voter verifiability of his or her choices.

But remember that the voter fills up a paper ballot which he -himself – then feeds into the counting machine. That’s your voter verification right there. Seriously, the voter verification requirement is critical mostly in DRE systems where there is no physical ballot to speak of. But with a paper ballot, the voter gets every opportunity to verify his vote before even feeding it into the counting machine.

The computer expert expressed concern that Smartmatic-TIM is providing only 2,200 backup PCOS units even after it acknowledged a breakdown rate of up to 10 percent of its machines. This means it should provide 8,000 backup units, he said.

With the 2,200 backups, the COMELEC is able to put a continuity plan into play that would ensure replacement of defective units within two hours. Considering that the elections will be spread out over the whole country, that standard pretty much means that 2,200 units are enough to cover the contingencies. In any case, replacement isn’t the only option. There are several layers to the continuity plan – which were detailed to the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee and which are being explained in various public fora being undertaken by COMELEC – which provide solutions for breakdowns without necessarily having to resort to replacement.

As to Dr. Manalastas’ fears about the source code review, the Technical Evaluation Committee – tasked by RA 9369 to take point on this matter – is expecting to start the code review by September.

I hope these truths help.

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Cross-posts

In 2010,Automation on 24 August 09 by jimenez Tagged: , , , ,

I’ve recently posted a few notes on Facebook. Since it’s a little tedious to actually re-post them all here, I’ll just give you the links.

Everybody a Quick-Counter was also cross posted over at Philippine Commentary.

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I’m back

In 2010,Automation on 17 May 09 by jimenez Tagged:

I’ve been away. But I’m back.

Let’s talk automation.

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Tempus Fugit

In 2010,Automation,COMELEC on 5 January 09 by jimenez Tagged: , , , ,

The supplemental budget for automation was submitted to the Department of Budget and Management even before Congress went on recess for the holidays. Unfortunately, the DBM hasn’t forwarded that budget to Congress. This obviously impacts automation timetables and nothing will be quite as screwed as voter ed.

Again.

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Registration is up again

In 2010,registration on 3 January 09 by jimenez Tagged: , ,

On Monday, COMELEC offices will start accepting applications for registration again. If you’re a first time voter, go to the bagongbotante site to download application forms. Detailed instructions are on the site as well.

Otherwise, you could just go to the COMELEC office in your city or municipality and get your forms there.

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The Internet

In 2010,Campaigns,Internet,oav on 3 January 09 by jimenez Tagged: , ,

Like SMS campaigning, internet campaigning will boom for 2010. Of course, I don’t know how savvy the politicians will be at using cyperspace realty, but that’s their problem.

The COMELEC – or at least my department – will be ramping up our on-line presence not just to benefit the wired here at home, but also to bring information a wee bit closer to the OFWs.

Cue complaints: “But not all OFW’s have access to the internet!” “Some don’t even know how to use computers!” And so on.

The same thing can be said of Filipinos here: not everyone has access to the ‘net, and not everyone knows how to use a computer. And people who go to internet cafe’s don’t really go to be educated about their civic duty.

So why bother?

First: information that’s put out on the ‘net stays there. Anyone can come and look and learn at any time. It’s not like a newspaper ad or primer that only one or two people get to read before it gets thrown away or forgotten in some dark corner.

Second: Having the information on the web means voter educators can download the info and use it in their activities. And surely, any voter educator’s first stop will be the internet. There are a lot of good voter ed sites – like the ACE project – but we also aim to be directly usable by Filipino voters.

Third: Candidates’ websites will not point to each other, obviously. So the voter has to have a place to go where he can jump to any candidate that catches his fancy. This eliminates the need for the voter to scour the net just to find info on a candidate, hopefully leading to a more informed electorate.

Fourth: the idea of a COMELEC run candidate portal is especially promising for OFWs who will be participating in the Overseas Absentee Voting system. While yes, not all of them will be savvy, some of them are and those who are can share the information that they get from our site. We can probably also ask the various consulates to dedicate one p.c. to our website and promote its use.

I can probably name a few more reasons why this is a worthwhile undertaking, but the bottom line is simply this: it’s the 21st century! Time to start thinking like we’re living in it.

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