May 10 election automation: watch out for “ghost precincts”, “ghost machines”

One method of election cheating that can be implemented either under manual or automated elections, and is hard to detect, is what we in Halalang Marangal (HALAL) call “ghost precincts” (under an automated system, “ghost machines”).

Imagine a typical school with, say, 20 classrooms, each one turned into a voting precinct. On election day, if one took the effort of counting all the precincts in that school, making sure none was missed, 20 precincts would be counted. Each precinct will have its share of election inspectors, watchers, voters, kibitzers, etc. All these live bodies would be visible on election day.

After the voting is over, the polls close, the votes are counted (manually or by machine), and the Election Returns (ERs) are sent to municipal or city canvassing centers (through government vehicles or electronic transmission) for canvassing and consolidation.

What if you kept careful track of every ER coming to the city or municipal canvassing center and inexplicably counted 25 instead of 20 precincts coming from the same school. Each of the extra five ERs would likewise have its share of inspectors, watchers and voters — every signature in order. Yet, you are sure you counted only 20 precincts when you checked every room in the school. (Or are you in fact sure? Is it possible you missed a few rooms somewhere?)

This is the problem of ghost precincts. In an automated setting, ghost machines need not even physically “arrive” at the city or municipal canvassing center. They will just pop up in the consolidated tally, their results having been transmitted electronically. These ghost machines could be housed anywhere, spread out in a number of safehouses, or housed in a central facility, sending authentic-looking reports, backed up with possibly authentic ballots in authentic ballot boxes. Where could these machines have come from? Possibly from the Chinese manufacturer, or possibly from the vendor. Certainly from insiders.

They may even turn up already grouped into “ghost voting centers”, when they integrate themselves among the living during the canvassing and consolidation process.

There is only one way to detect their presence (actually, their absence): on election day, one must explore every nook and cranny of every voting center, and count every precinct and machine that is actively processing voters and subsequently counting votes. One must then compare this list against the list of precincts (or machines) that report results during the canvassing and consolidation process.

Any extra precinct or machine is a ghost.

These ghosts are hard to detect because the window of opportunity for detecting them is a narrow one: only on election day. In addition, few political parties especially in national contests have the organizational capacity to actually double-check the physical existence of every precinct and school in every city and municipality. There are always gaps in their reach. In these gaps, the cheats can operate, creating ghost precincts and possibly even ghost schools, to produce thousands of fraudulent votes for their candidates.

But there is no other way. To detect ghost precincts, one must be armed with the complete Project of Precincts (the official Comelec listing of every precinct in the country — which may in fact include ghost precincts) and be patient enough to confirm the existence of each one on election day.

If you find a precinct (or school!) that does not come alive on election day, you’ve busted a ghost.

Get yourself a CD copy of the Project of Precincts, and on May 10, try ghost-busting.

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