Comelec kicks off review of automated poll system

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 13) — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Saturday began preparations for a two-month review of the local source code, the human-readable instructions that would run the vote counting machines in the 2019 elections.

The poll body hopes the review would allay some groups' doubts in the integrity of the automated polls.

"Gusto natin mapakita natin sa publiko na mapagkakatiwalaan natin ang sistema (We want to show the public that are system can be trusted)," Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez said.

The review runs from Oct. 17 to Dec. 14, but Jimenez said they invited the participants to watch the preparations on Saturday.

IT experts, election watchdogs and representatives of political parties and candidates are participating in the review.

They will look into the codes of the vote counting machines, the election management system that controls the database, and the canvassing and consolidation system to be used by the Board of Canvassers. 

Some experts said there have been some improvements in the source code audit process since the first time it was done in 2013 amid questions on the credibility of the presidential polls. But experts said this is not enough.

"Mahirap ang proseso (The process is difficult). It's a controlled review eh. There is still a feeling of security by obscurity," said National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) volunteer Jay-R Contreras, an IT expert.

Comelec said it has also improved the system's security features for the May 13, 2019 polls.

Venezuelan company Smartmatic has been supplying automated machines to the government since the 2010 elections.

The government continues to use its services despite allegations that it altered the source code of vote counting machines in the 2013 national elections, and fed a suspicious new script or computer command to the Comelec's transparency server during the transmission and counting of election returns in 2016.

These are claims the company has denied, while the Presidential Electoral Tribunal has started a manual vote recount due to a poll protest filed by former Senator Bongbong Marcos questioning Vice President Leni Robredo's win in 2016.

CNN Philippines' Makoi Popioco contributed to this report.