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Flap over Indian Electronic Voting Machines

The Great Indian Election Tamasha (Cartoon by Paresh Nath, Published by The Khaleej Times, UAE, Cartoon Courtesy - caglecartoons.com).

The Great Indian Election Tamasha (Cartoon by Paresh Nath, Published by The Khaleej Times, UAE, Cartoon Courtesy - caglecartoons.com).

All’s well …

Hari K. Prasad, the techie who was pushing the case for secure Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), earlier arrested, has now been released on bail.

Fears of the Vindictive State seems to have been misplaced. Instead, we had a judge who echoed, pretty much what 2ndlook said. The judge said,

if the machine was possessed by the accused for demonstrating only that it could be tampered with, then the accused committed no offence. On the contrary, he has done a great service to the democracy,” the Judge said in the bail order.


How can the land of snakes and elephants get the latest technoloy seems to be the thrust of these aruments? (Cartoon by Patrick Corrigan; Published by The Toronto Star; Crtoon Courtesy - caglecartoons.com.).

How can the land of snakes and elephants get the latest technology seems to be the thrust of these arguments? (Cartoon by Patrick Corrigan; Published by The Toronto Star; Cartoon Courtesy - caglecartoons.com.).

If developed countries have rejected EVMs …

One worrisome argument states that since many ‘advanced’ countries rejected EVMs, India too must reject the same.

The question seems to be, “Do you think the Indian Election Commission is better than the US Federal Election Commission?” Since, election authorities in Netherlands and Germany have rejected EVMs, another favorite question is “Are you saying that the Government of Netherlands and Germany are wrong?” Even ‘advanced’ countries don’t have EVMs.

Why should India have it.

Paralysis by analysis

Paper based systems are also prone to frauds. Like ‘oldsters’ in the Indian electoral scene will point put. Whatever technology is used, elements of fraud are likely to rear their heads. A recent post in The Economic Times recounts

a story to illustrate how there have always been allegations against electoral systems. “Balraj Madhok (former politician and co-founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh) once alleged that Indira Gandhi had colluded with the Russians and imported a special election ink. Wherever it is marked in the ballot paper, the ink would disappear and reappear against the Congress symbol. This is like that,” he says.

If the above story is factual, it would mean, a combination of two inks. A disappearing ink that would fade away a few days after being used on the ballot paper. The second ink would have to be an ‘invisible’ ink, that is embedded in the ballot paper at the printing press itself. This ‘invisible ink would make its appearance a few days or weeks after the ballots are printed. Do such inks exist?

I haven’t the foggiest notion.

A new day … a new way

Making the system work, after the decision is made is a good thing. Paralysing a system with ‘doubts’ instead of ‘karma’ is a bad idea. If EVMs need improvement, let us do it.

For tomorrow, I would propose a paper based system with central data-base and a printer-server with printers in every polling booth. These printers will print a ballot-paper on demand, for that booth, with date-time-location-serial number-election supervisor-election observers ID stamp, that will have better security than EVM or the ‘current’ old printing machines.

The story so far …

By December, the movement had a book of its own, written by Rao, the psephologist, and a growing number of supporters. One of them, Satya Dosapati, a technician from AP living in the US, connected the movement with Rop Gonggrijp and Alex Halderman. Gonggrijp is a Dutch activist who was part of the team that persuaded his country to scrap electronic voting. Halderman holds a PhD in computer science from Princeton University and is currently an assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan. When Prasad eventually got hold of a machine, Gonggrijp and Halderman worked with him to demonstrate two ways in which a potential hacker could manipulate the machine.

Alerted, the EC asked officials to check for bluetooth devices in EVMs during the first step in securing a machine for an election. Engineers from the manufacturing companies are also now required to certify that all components are original and have not been tampered with. They also have to ensure the absence of any external component. It’s unclear though if all the components in 1.3 million machines can be rigorously tested and cleared by engineers before every election.(via ET Special: Can the Electronic Voting Machine be manipulated? – Page3 – The Economic Times).

  1. Galeo Rhinus
    September 19, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    “Since, election authorities in Netherlands and Germany have rejected EVMs…”

    Actually – the election authorities in these “advanced nations” did not want to reject EVM’s there were individuals – just like Prasad who demonstrated the vulnerability. It was a process that took some time. There are several like Prasad in India who are exposing the vulnerabilities. Which should become a public forum to improve the system.

    About the ink. Yes – technically – reappearing inks and inks that become invisible are very possible. However – they can be deployed only in a small scale – because – the ink and the paper are widespread and the fraud is visible to a wider audience (who can simply use their eyes to see the fraud).

    Computer fraud is much more difficult to because an individual can’t use their senses alone to recognize it. Even a computer savvy person like me will not be able to detect fraud – because it can be statistically randomized.

    Paper fraud, ink fraud, booth capturing are not easy to scale. Elections rigged using these methods are relatively easy to expose.

    The question of why use machines for polls anyway? The idea is to improve accuracy and reduce labor costs.

    Using printers on site can be tricky… paper roll logistics, ink logistics, and printing equipment vulnerabilities are an issue.

    One technology that has been around for a long time and works well are ballot scanners – that work like a vending machine.

    A voter uses a ballot paper and fills a circle or a rectangle using a pencil or pen. He/she inserts it into the voting machine that will take the ballot inside, scan and record the vote and deposit the paper inside.

    Each booth will have a machine that will give an instant count for the votes and will have inside the paper that should exactly match the count.

    As a technology geek – having thought through hundreds to possibilities – this seems to be the most plausible way.

  2. September 20, 2010 at 10:54 am

    I think a mix of: –

    – Ballot scanners (like what are used for examination papers?)
    – Bar-coded ballot papers (3-D bar codes would be ideal)

    will be secure and fast!

    I wonder

    – What would be size of these scanning machines.
    – Would these machines be small enough to be carted around easily?
    – Are they cheap enough?
    – Are they ruggedized enough?

  3. A fan of your blog
    September 20, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    The best way is to create a closed loop system, which has the following components:
    1. EVM: The EVM will be at the center of this configuration. Get away from paper permanently, it serves no purpose and is another contributor to tree-felling.
    2. Unique ID for each registered voter: This plays a key role in avoiding mass rigging.
    3. Tamper proofing of EVM: This can be achieved through secure wireless networks by incorporating configuration checks on a cyclical basis to ensure configuartion is not changed.
    4. Data transmission over wireless networks: Voting data to be transmitted to a servers over secure networks regularly (several times an hour) to maintain statistical as well as real time voting data. No information to be made available real time at the local machine. Results to be made available only after voting is completed and machines are shut down. This will ensure that no one tries to mess up to get an advantage.

    As always, we need honest and principled people to be at the helm of this technological solution. And checks and balances to ensure that no one rigs it at the server/database level.

  4. Galeo Rhinus
    September 21, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    Yes – ballot scanners (same technology as exam papers). The size should be identical to the polling boxes that were used before the EVMs. The only difference is that the opening for the polling box will have a scanner attached to it which will scan the ballot before it gets deposited in the box below. The result of the scan will be store locally and can be accessed using an electronic adapter that will display the count – similar to how the EVM functions today. The good thing about these scanners is that if someone makes a mistake – for example – if a mark is not recognizable or two are marked – it will be rejected immediately and the voter can correct his/her error.

    It will be locked and to be not opened unless for a manual count that can be requested by any individual who would bear the cost of the recount. This individual could be any citizen. The cost of a manual count – per polling booth – should be part of the process.

    I am not sure what you mean by bar coded ballot papers. How does a voter vote?

    The way I see it – each step in the voting process should be auditable by using logic and our senses. It is not a question of the “advanced” voter or a “backward” voter. The more complex a system the more complex is the audit path.

    AFOYB – I think you have missed the point completely. Me as an individual – no matter how tech savvy I am – cannot audit almost anything you are proposing – including a “secure wireless network.”

  5. September 21, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    thank you post

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