Vote buying and rigging in a privatized election

This article is available in PilipinoHiligaynonBisaya

With the 2022 elections approaching, there is a growing apprehension in various parts of the country regarding vote buying using Smartmatic vote machines. According to some candidates running for local positions, there are Smartmatic agents who charge ₱60 million in exchange for assuring victory of a candidate.

“In the previous election, agents only charged ₱7 million to secure a win,” according to a candidate. “It’s likely higher now as they have proved they can rig the elections. Buyers won and nothing happened to electoral protests at the local level.”

It can be recalled that majority of the winners of the 2019 elections are candidates who received huge amounts of funding from Rodrigo Duterte’s party and allied parties. This is the election were a “60-30-10″ pattern or distribution of votes was observed across the country, where 60% went to pro-administration candidates, 30% to opposition candidates; and 10% for other candidates.

This is also the election where the practice of vote-shaving was exposed, or reducing votes for progressive groups running as party-lists. An investigation conducted by Anakpawis party-list in a cluster of precincts during the previous election revealed that votes counted by Smartmatic was way below the number of members who voted in the area. The votes for the party was systematically and calculatedly decreased to ensure that it will not meet the requisite votes to secure a seat in Congress.

“It’s just like magic,” according to a candidate who was interviewed by Ang Bayan. The machines are already programmed to whom votes will go to even before the polls.” This belies the Commission on Elections claim that Smartmatic machines are “99% accurate.”

Unreliable system

On January 28, an official of the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordination Center (CICC) under the Department of Information and Communications Technology, dis­closed in a hearing of a joint Congress and Senate committee that the automated vote counting system of the Smartmatic company is “compromised” and unreliable. The official revealed this after it was reported that hackers were able to penetrate Comelec servers and gain confidential voters’ information. Comelec officials denied this, a claim which the CICC averred. Instead, the CICC pointed to the Smartmatic servers as the ones that were “compromised” due to a weak security system.

Up to ₱3.1 billion worth of contracts for the 2022 election were awarded by the Comelec to Smartmatic USA Corp., and its local subsidiary SMMT-TMI (Smartmatic Philippines). This includes payment for the automated election software, vote transmission services, repairing vote counting machines used in previous elections, and purchase procurement of 10,000 additional machines and spare batteries. In short, the Smartmatic will receive the votes, count and consolidate votes in different precincts, and transmit the results to the Comelec. The whole process is done away from the public eye, and voters, observers and even the Comelec have no mechanisms to ensure that votes are are counted or counted correctly.

Smartmatic has bagged four fat contracts in previous automated elections. Since 2010, the Philipinnes paid the company a total of ₱20.85 billion. The awarding of contracts to Smartmatic are highly anomalous and involved high Comelec officials.

Automated counting systems have long been abolished in many countries which reimplemented manual counting in precincts, while maintaining automated vote can­vassing.

The automated voting and vote counting system worsened the private sectors’ control over the elections as well as massive electoral fraud. Since a foreign company, and its engineers, control the machines and software used for voting, counting and transmission, they can easily intervene in and manipulate the elections from the local to national level. Combined with traditional vote buying which is prevalent barrios and communities, it is certain that those with the biggest funds will be able to steal the election.

Vote buying and rigging in a privatized election