Poll watchdogs: New Comelec rule is prone to manipulation

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — A new rule from the Commission on Election (Comelec) states that all memory cards containing election returns from all poll precincts must be brought to the city or municipal board of canvassers. The contents of the memory cards will then be copied onto canvassing laptops. For the Comelec, it is a way to back-up the results transmitted from the precincts through cellular or satellite signal.

But poll watchdogs, Automated Election System Watch (AES Watch) and the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, warned on Thursday (April 28) this rule is prone to manipulation.

Dr. Nelson Celis, spokesperson of AES Watch, said it is possible for the SD cards to be switched during the transfer. They worry candidates or their supporters may take advantage if the board of canvassers wait for all cards to come in before declaring the winners.

The group said it defeats the purpose of electronic transmission, adding the Comelec itself does not count on cellular or satellite transmission.

Related: How electronic vote transmission works

"Ibig sabihin nito, Comelec is not prepared for the full implementation of the law. And this is a critical risk and a disaster may happen," Celis said.

The Automated Election System Law states poll results should be based on electronically transmitted returns. Physically transporting the memory cards is needed only when the vote counting machine fails to transmit its returns. In the 2013 elections, 23 percent failed. 

Comelec Commissioner Sheriff Abas clarified the new rule does not replace electronic transmission. It will still be the basis for declaring winners.

He added they are ready to fend off attempts at cheating.

"Well, dun sa dayaan naman, yung mga ganyang claim, always naman yan sa election, which is, para sa akin, healthy. Ako, I don't take it as negative. As a matter of fact, tine-take ko yun as positive, na talagang kami sa Comelec, talagang naghahanda kami," Abas said.

He added 90 percent of polling equipment have been delivered to regional hubs all over the country. Comelec will finish shipping everything before Monday (May 2) when the final testing and sealing of the equipment will begin at every precinct.