Posts Tagged ‘Automation’

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Voting with the modern ballot

In Automation,educ/info on 1 September 09 by jimenez Tagged: , ,

2stepvoting

Using the modern ballot is this easy.

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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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Overacting

In Automation on 17 May 09 by jimenez Tagged: ,

Can you say “overacting?”

The public response to Chairman Jose Melo’s avowed nightmare scenario seems overboard, doesn’t it?

Of course no one wants the elections to be canceled – least of all the COMELEC. What good would that do us?

Think about it for awhile. These reactions to what Melo said are underpinned by one basic idea: that no one has actually considered the possibility that some disgruntled group might actually file a case with the Supreme Court seeking to enjoin automation, with the Court actually issuing a temporary restraining order, or – worse – not issuing a TRO and then, with the elections coming up, suddenly voiding the automation contract. If that happens close enough to the polls, then how can the COMELEC possibly prepare for an election?

Legarda said in a statement: “Who gets to benefit from a no-election scenario? Isn’t it the administration? Now comes the Comelec doing a mind conditioning of its own, wittingly or unwittingly, by saying that losing bidders may sue to stop not only poll automation but the election itself.”

First of all, losing bidders cannot sue. And mind conditioning? Hardly. Call it prudence instead, that we are telling the people what the possibilities are without sugar-coating the more nasty ones. The truth is, the people must know that if and when a suit is brought before the SC to shoot down automation, they must be doubly vigilant that it is not frivolous or founded on some misplace professional pride or based on a warped idea of patriotism.

More to the point, the public must know that their rests a very significant responsibility on the shoulders of the SC to be very careful about what suits to entertain and – as a learning from the 2004 experience – to be very cautious about scuttling the project so close to election day.

Escudero, chair of the Senate oversight committee on poll automation, said if the bidding process was above board, “he (Melo) should be able to sleep well.”

With all due respect to the Senator, a spotless bidding process does not guarantee that no suits will be filed. It’s not only the bidders that can bring suit, after all. The automation contract is an expenditure of public funds, hence it can be a very tasty target for a taxpayer’s suit. Which means that practically anyone can gun for it. This includes people who are fronting for losing bidders and anyone who thinks that he knows better than a Constitutional body how it’s job should be done. In the latter category, count everyone who thinks that automation should not be nationwide, or should not be for all races. Include also everyone who claims to know information technology and has a thousand and one ideas on how things should be conducted. And of course, it is the blind man who ignores that there is a certain nihilistic thrill to scuttling a government project of this magnitude.

Secretary Gonzalez said talk of a no-election would only “fan the sinister imagination of critics.” He said there would “always” be elections because “we can always revert to the old [manual] system.”

True enough. But then again, what if the SC were to void the contract too close to the elections? Say, three months before? We all would like to think that the SC would not do such a thing, but what if it did? Are we supposed to ignore that possibility and so, not prepare for it?

Because really, that’s all there is to it: acknowledging the possibility of a problem and preparing for it. We know that there is no way we can guarantee that some person or group won’t get it into their heads to second-guess the COMELEC. The least we can do, therefore, is to warn the public – and everyone else who might find it in their power to do the right thing – of the dire consequences of a suit filed late, or an SC decision promulgated even later.

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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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2009 coming up

In 2010,Automation,COMELEC,Journal on 31 December 08 by jimenez Tagged: , , , ,

It’s almost here: the year before what might turn out to be the most important elections in recent memory. Just thinking about all the things that need to be done gives me hives.

The overarching need, of course, is to get started on the procurement of the automated election system.

About that – there seems to be a growing consensus that we should just lease the machines. That sounds good. After all, with a lease, there’ll be no worries about storage and maintenance. But will simply leasing the machines also mean that we will end up having to reinvent the wheel for every other election?

Take 2010 for instance. We leased the machines that we used in the 2008 ARMM polls. Now, we have to formulate a whole new Request for Proposal for 2010. If we purchased the machines in 2008, then we could already be working on getting the 2010 elections online, couldn’t we (at least for those areas that we can cover with the number of machines we have)?

Instead, everything is hanging on so many variables: will we get the money? will we get it on time? will we have enough time to adequately customize the machines? will we have time to satisfactorily work out the kinks?

Most everything else that needs to be done in 2009 really just spins-off from automation: generating public acceptance for the system, making sure voters know how to use the tech, that sort of thing. But that’s still a whole lot o’work.

Well at least there’s still some time left to take a deep breath. Too bad the air already reeks of gunpowder.