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Flap over Indian Electronic Voting Machines

September 19, 2010 5 comments
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.

Tathastu!

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).

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