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Poll automation issues raised once again

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Before automated elections began in the presidential election of 2010, the most common complaints of electoral fraud revolved around vote buying, fake voters included in poll lists, armed men threatening teachers counting the votes, and ballots being replaced in ballot boxes stored in municipal buildings in case of recounts.

All these physical acts have ceased to matter with automation. Today, all that is needed to thwart the will of the people in an election is to know the right button to push in a computer, that would automatically alter the figures coming out of a vote-counting machine.

This is at the heart of former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s electoral protest against Vice President Leni Robredo. He has charged that right after some officials authorized a change in the spelling of one candidate’s name in the middle of the counting, the vote counting trend suddenly changed. He ultimately lost the count by 263,473 votes.

Last Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III raised a new challenge to the automated election system. Elections were supposed to be held on May 9, 2016, he said, but as early as 9:17 a.m. on May 8 – the day before the election – some voting machines were already transmitting results to the municipal voting center in Libon, Albay. It was the machines that were voting, Senator Sotto said, and six senatorial candidates were getting votes; everyone else had zero votes.

Senator Sotto also said that the logs showed that a computer service in the United States was able to access the election results through election servers during the entire process. The senator said he could not say who benefited from these interventions, but they need to be investigated as they could be electoral sabotage. “If we don’t do anything to clear the doubts as to the legitimacy of the previous election, then we put at risk the accuracy of the 2019 elections,” he said.

As in all previous complaints, it is the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and Smartmatic, the provider of the election system and vote-counting machines, that are called to explain. Through all the previous cases, they have managed to weather all challenges and are now preparing for the mid-term election of senators, congressmen, and local government officials in 2019.

Even more crucial will be the presidential election in 2022. We have used the Smartmatic machines in the 2010, 2013, and 2016 elections as there appeared to be no determined effort to get to the bottom of the charges involving automated elections.

Senator Sotto has now raised the issue once again. Will his move lead to some decisive action or will we go back to the same automated poll system we began using in 2010 for lack of any determined investigation leading to decisive action?

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