6 things Filipinos should know about the vote counting machine issue

6 things Filipinos should know about the vote counting machine issue

1. Allegations of tampering

Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. alleged that a change in hash codes boosted the votes of Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo in the partial and unofficial tally of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV).

2.  Understanding where your vote goes

To understand whether Marcos’ claim of fraud is true, it is important to understand where your vote goes.

May tatlong magkakahiwalay na server: ppcrv, comelec at consolidated canvassing.

Here is  where your vote goes:

You fill out your ballot and feed it into the Vote Counting Machine (VCM). It is this big, black Very Cute Machine. It eats your votes and turns it into data. It won’t send this data until after the voting period closes.

Closing time and all the votes are now in! Now the VCM transmits your vote to 3 places:

The Consolidating and Canvassing System (CCS), which tallies the final results.

Central Server (handled by Comelec)

Transparency Server (handled by the PPCRV)

Why three different places? First, to secure the safety of the data (redundancy!) and second, to make cheating damned difficult. Each and every VCM autonomously sent its data to THREE INDEPENDENT SERVERS in three unique locations.

3. Impossible to hack all 3 servers

Halos impossibleng mag hack ng 3 server na hindi konektado sa isa't isa. Kahit pinakamagaling na hacker sa buong mundo di sya kaya. Hindi magiging pareho ang resulta.

It’s important to note that changing the data on one server is NOT going to update the other two. They are not “linked”. The VCMs transmitted the data to all 3 servers independently. And to change the election results, all three servers would have to be breached to make those results valid.

It’s highly improbable that such a thing could occur outside of Hollywood, and you’d have to have the skills of Neo from the Matrix to pull that off. But the claims aren’t about the Holy Trinity of Servers, it’s about *one*. The only server open to the public: The Transparency Server.

4. Wrong use of the term "hash code"

Mali ang gamit sa salitang hash code. Hindi malinaw kung ano ang tinutukoy nila. Hindi apektado ng hash file ang packets, Weird yun.

In theoriginal Inquirer article, the source claims he discovered an anomaly sometime between 7:30PM and 8:00 PM, while conducting ‘regular verification checks’ on the Transparency Server, “-- the paired hash codes of the file is not the same.”

Here’s his exact statement, in reference to the “altered” files:

"Apparently, the execution of this computer command was able to alter the hash code of the packet"

*vinyl screech to a halt sound effect*

What does he mean by hash code? First of all, a hash code is what you would call the result of a hash function, which isn’t related to this issue at all. What he is referring to is actually the file’s fingerprint - a special series of numbers and letters that represents what’s inside the file. This fingerprint always changes if the file’s contents change.

What’s more worrisome is the misuse of the word packet. A packet is like a motorcycle delivery guy’s cargo box. The delivery guy needs to stop, open it up, and hand you your pizza box, before you can open it and eat your pizza. When you intercept a packet, you un-pack your packet. You can’t mess with it while it’s flying through the air - that would be silly. To say hash codes affected packets is ill-advised in the least. But let’s always give people the benefit of the doubt and translate the complaint into a more logical statement.

“Between 7:30PM and 8:30PM, the files were altered.”

5. No effect on electoral results

The likely cause, Computer Science faculty & co-founder of By Implication Wilhansen Li suggests, is a character encoding error. When results were being reported on national TV, you all saw that the names that had “ñ” weren’t showing up properly (instead you could see A+E or ‘?’). It appears that the Smartmatic employee updated the file’s character encoding to a type called UTF-8 so that single character would display properly (character encoding is just how computers see alphabets).

If so, I feel for him, because like Inquirer’s “IT Expert” he’s likely to get flak for just doing his job. COMELEC, as of writing this article, has already called a press conference confirming this is exactly what happened.

COMELEC will easily be able to disprove allegations of cheating by sharing the contents of their Central Server to the public so they can repeat the ‘ñ’ back to ‘?’ fingerprint exercise for themselves. If there was no tampering involved, you will be able to generate a fingerprint that will match the one generated at the Transparency Server before 7:30PM after changing ‘ñ’ back to ‘?’ -- this means nothing else was changed.

PPCRV has also gone public saying that no tampering was detected in the transparency server; every news organisation in the country was keenly observing the incoming data, and the server room was under CCTV surveillance.

In addition, the Transparency Server results are verified by the PPCRV by matching it against actual printed ERs (Election Results). PPCRV has a lot more to say about the matter, but they are adamant that 11 independent parties have validated the lack of anomalies.

6. The real issue

Maricor Akol, Namfrel National Council member, said in a news conference that the cause of the discrepancy in the hash code was due to a change in the character encoding, specifically on the "ñ" character. She further explained that the correction on the character was done by someone from the Comelec-Smartmatic group after the hashcode was generated, thus causing the issue on the mismatch of the hashcode.

"The main and real issue here would be the last minute changes in process and codes, as well as lack of quality control by Smartmatic," Akol said. She described the error as "amateurish."

"In short, there was a sloppy work given to us," she said.

 

CONTRIBUTORS: Andrea Levinge, CEO/Founder at White Widget Wilhansen Li,

Co-Founder at By Implication & Computer Science Faculty at ADMU

 

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