Thursday, April 2, 2009

Computer Professionals warns of possible large scale election cheating on COMELEC automation | Computer Professionals' Union



Press Release, 2 April 2009

“If not done properly, automated large scale cheating can happen with the COMELEC's plan for automated elections,” warns the Computer Professionals' Union (CPU) on the current rush of COMELEC to implement an Automated Election System (AES). The first automation attempt was scrapped by the Supreme Court in 2004 when COMELEC's P1.7 billion contract with Mega Pacific Consortium was declared null and void due to irregularities. Under R.A. 9369 which mandates the COMELEC to recommend the technology and choose a provider for the automated elections, the Commission chose Optical Mark Reader (OMR) technology for the 2010 National Elections.

The OMR system that will be used by the COMELEC will use 80,000 Precint Counting Optical Sensor (PCOS) machines. The  PCOS includes a computer system, an OMR device which will read ballots marked by the voter, and a networking device for data transmission. This will cost the Filipino people P11 Billion.

The current automated election system is vulnerable to insider manipulation, software engineering problems, and remote or network attacks.

With insider access to the AES, vote manipulation can become more sophisticated. Dagdag-bawas or tampering can be made to appear mathematically consistent. In the manual elections, adding or subtracting to the results at the canvassing stage produces inconsistent totals when compared to the number of registered voters and actual votes cast. With the AES, this can now be made to appear consistent if direct manipulation to the data is made or by programming the system to reconcile the numbers. Insiders can overwrite the consolidated data with results favorable to certain candidates. In the manual elections, the coordinated manipulation of municipal/provincial canvass is limited by geographical factors. In the AES, tampering in the synchronized provincial canvass can now be done by just manipulating the consolidation servers at the municipal, provincial and national canvassing levels.

Whether intentional or incidental, a software problem in the AES system can affect the machines to be used in the elections. Software bugs are commonplace and they sometimes affect the same hardware with the same configurations differently. 

“It should be a requirement that the source code of software used by the AES be open and released to the public for review,” adds Rick Bahague, the National Coordinator of CPU. Source codes are instructions understood by machines to do certain functions or tasks.  “However, with the current timeline of COMELEC, this will not happen. If source codes are released, no time for review is alloted.” 

CPU is also known for its advocacy for Free and Open Source Software (FOSS).

During transmission of data from municipal to provincial up to the national canvassing, there are still dangers of manipulation. Outside attackers can do advance cracking techniques to alter data being transmitted. 

In addition, the AES should also provide a voter-verifiable audit trail. A voter-veriafiable-audit mechanism allows a voter to check consistency between his or her ballot and the recording made by the AES. In the event that machines fail, there should be a way to recount votes independently from the machines.

While there are technical challenges, it is still possible to create a suitable AES system which the people can trust. It should be reviewed by a large number of independent security experts with knowledge in computer security and cryptography. The source code, instructions written in a language understood by computers, of the system should be open and available to the public. This will allow all interested and technically-adept individuals and groups to scrutinize the functions of the system. It should have voter-verifiable audit trails for reference.

A suitable AES should accurately capture voter's intent to actual tally. It should be secured such that ballot secrecy is protected. It should be encrypted and digitally signed so that the ballot data is protected and difficult to tamper with. It should be able to effectively handle a large number of voters. Finally, it should release report faster than the manual elections. 

AES will not eliminate cheating and fraud in the 2010 elections. Moreover, technology to speed up voting and the canvassing process only becomes relevant and useful if the people behind the technology are credible and serve to protect the interests of the population in the elections.

The Computer Professionals' Union and other concerned ICT groups are organizing a National ICT Conference on Automated Elections System on 22 April 2009 in UP Diliman. It primarily aims to gather experiences and best practices in technologies relevant to AES. CPU hopes to set a baseline that will serve as a monitoring mechanism of the people on AES providers and the COMELEC.


Automagic Elections, Computer Professionals' Union, 2 April 2009,

Rick Bahague rick at cp-union dot com 4134196 / 09178840096

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