01 June 2010

The truth will set us free


Monday, May 31. 2010
Let citizens access ballot images to confirm the random manual audit

The random manual audit (RMA) conducted by the Comelec has lost much of its credibility for the following reasons:

1. while the RMA should have been conducted immediately after the electronic transmission of results, many audits were conducted the next day or even later, providing more time for malicious intervention and tampering;

2. while the RMA should have been conducted right at the precinct where many stakeholders are present, many audits were conducted elsewhere, such as in canvassing centers or the treasurer's office, where the relocation and physical transport of ballot boxes created opportunities for more malicious intervention and tampering;

3. while the RMA should have been conducted in the presence of stakeholders like political party watchers, election watchdogs, and the voting public to witness the process, many audits were done without these stakeholders, whose presence is essential to the credibility of the process;

4. while the results of the audit should have been released immediately after the audit, the results went through several days up to a week or more of “processing” before release; in fact, many results still have not been released, nearly three weeks after the audits were conducted; and

5. while the Comelec should have released the actual manual counts and the earlier machine counts, leaving it to the public to make our own judgment about the results, Comelec officials have repeatedly told the media their findings about “minimal discrepancies” without releasing the actual manual and machine results on which the public can make an independent judgment.

For these reasons, the RMA has lost much of its credibility and it is hard to allay suspicions that its results have been sanitized. Without a credible audit, the public remains in the dark about the accuracy as well as the integrity of the PCOS machine counts.

Halalang Marangal (HALAL) has proposed a way to empower citizens to double-check the RMA and settle the questions about the accuracy and integrity of PCOS counts once and for all: Let all the ballot images stored in the 1,145 CF main memory cards coming from the audited precincts be made public in unencrypted form, grouped by precinct cluster. Then citizens and stakeholders can themselves tally the votes in these audited precincts and compare their findings with the findings of the RMA teams and the Comelec. If the audits were indeed done properly and public doubts about the RMA process are baseless, our counts should match very closely the counts of the audit teams. If so, then we can ourselves vouch for the credibility of the RMA process.

Here are the details of the HALAL proposal: once the ballot images are unencrypted, they will be in a standard format called JPEG, which can be displayed on any computer. All ballot images in one precinct cluster can be compressed into a single file called a zipped file and accompanied by its hash code, to ensure authenticity. The 1,145 compressed files with their hash codes can be made available for download at Comelec websites as well as made available to the public on DVDs, without copyright protection. While cheats have mastered the fine art of ballot box substitution, it will be a huge challenge for them to create new ballot images now and substitute these for the authentic ones stored on the main memory cards.

The public release of ballot images can start with the 1,145 audited precinct clusters subjected to the random manual audit (RMA), so that people may independently confirm the results of the RMA. But nothing prevents the Comelec from making public the ballot images of all the 76,347 precinct clusters. By doing so, the Comelec will effectively be restoring the right of voters, provided for in the Automated Election Law, to verify if the machines correctly registered their choices. This time, the Comelec cannot say that voter verification will delay the voting process.

In the pre-2010 system, candidates and voters could see how their votes were counted one vote at a time. Citizens were active witnesses in tallying the votes that would eventually select their leaders among the various candidates. This was living democracy. We lost this democratic process under automated elections. Today, we have no idea if the machines counted our votes. Excluding candidates and voters from the counting of the votes is actually a big step backward in electoral democracy.

Putting the ballot images online will not only restore that democratic function and truly empower citizens in ensuring that their votes are properly counted, but it will also make it much easier for candidates to accept defeat.

Candidates and voters should see each vote counted, because every vote counts.