Indian voting machines
|Part of the Politics series|
Electronic Voting Machines ("EVM") are being used in Indian General and State Elections to implement electronic voting in part from 1999 elections and in total since 2004 elections. The EVMs reduce the time in both casting a vote and declaring the results compared to the old paper ballot system. However, EVMs have been under a cloud of suspicion over their alleged tamparability and security problems during elections (especially after the 2009 general elections). After rulings of Delhi High Court, Supreme Court and demands from various political parties, Election Commission decided to introduce EVMs with Voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) system.
The EVMs were devised and designed by Election Commission of India in collaboration with two Public Sector undertakings viz., Bharat Electronics Limited, Bangalore and Electronics Corporation of India Limited, Hyderabad.
In 1980, Mr. M. B. Haneefa designed the first Indian voting machine, gazetted "Electronically operated vote counting machine" (Gazette: 191/Mas/80, 15 October 1980). His original design was exhibited to the public in six Government Exhibitions of Tamil Nadu, viz.: Madras (Chennai), Trichy, Coimbatore, Salem, Madurai and Tirunelveli. Remarkably, the voting machine was designed using only Integrated Circuits.
Indian voting machines use a two-piece system with a balloting unit presenting the voter with a button (momentary switch) for each choice connected by a cable to an electronic ballot box.
An EVM consists of two units:
- Control Unit
- Balloting Unit
The two units are joined by a five-meter cable. The Control Unit is with the Presiding Officer or a Polling Officer and the Balloting Unit is placed inside the voting compartment. Instead of issuing a ballot paper, the Polling Officer in-charge of the Control Unit will press the Ballot Button. This will enable the voter to cast his vote by pressing the blue button on the Balloting Unit against the candidate and symbol of his choice.
The controller used in EVMs has its operating program etched permanently in silicon at the time of manufacturing by the manufacturer. No one (including the manufacturer) can change the program once the controller is manufactured.
Further details regarding this unit are available at: http://www.bel-India.com/BELWebsite/images/EVM_Features.pdf
- EVMs are powered by an ordinary 6 volt alkaline battery manufactured by Bharat Electronics Ltd., Bangalore and Electronic Corporation of India Ltd., Hyderabad. This design enables the use of EVMs throughout the country without interruptions because several parts of India do not have power supply and/or erratic power supply.
- Currently, an EVM can record a maximum of 3840 votes, which is sufficient for a polling station as they typically have no more than 1400 voters assigned.
- Currently, an EVM can cater to a maximum of 64 candidates. There is provision for 16 candidates in a Balloting Unit. If the total number of candidates exceeds 16, a second Balloting Unit can be linked parallel to the first Balloting Unit and so on till a maximum of 4 units and 64 candidates. The conventional ballot paper/box method of polling is used if the number of candidates exceeds 64.
- It is not possible to vote more than once by pressing the button again and again. As soon as a particular button on the Balloting Unit is pressed, the vote is recorded for that particular candidate and the machine gets locked. Even if one presses that button further or any other button, no further vote will be recorded. This way the EVMs ensure the principle of "one person, one vote".
- The EVMs cannot be pre-programmed to favour a party or a candidate because the order in which the name of a candidate/party appears on the balloting unit depends on the order of filing of nominations and validity of the candidature, this sequence cannot be predicted in advance. Further, the selection of EVMs for polling stations is randomized by computer selection preventing the advance knowledge of assignment of specific EVMs to polling stations.
- Since EVMs work on a 6-volt battery, there is absolutely no risk of any voter getting an electric shock.
- The cost per EVM (One Control Unit, one Balloting Unit and one battery) was Rs.5,500/- at the time the machines were purchased in 1989–90. Even though the initial investment was somewhat heavy, it was more than neutralised by the savings in the matter of production and printing of ballot papers in lakhs, their transportation, storage etc., and the substantial reduction in the counting staff and the remuneration paid to them.
- It will be easier to transport the EVMs compared to ballot boxes as EVMs are lighter, portable and come with polypropylene carrying cases.
- The vote-counting is very fast and the result can be declared within 2 to 3 hours as compared to 30–40 hours, on an average, under the ballot-paper system.
- In countries like India, where illiteracy is still a factor, illiterate people find EVMs easier than ballot paper system, where one has to put the voting stamp on the symbol of the candidate of his/her choice, fold it first vertically and then horizontally, and put it into the ballot box. In EVMs, the voter has to simply press the blue button against the candidate and symbol of his choice and the vote is recorded.
- Bogus voting can be greatly reduced by the use of EVMs. In case of ballot paper system, a bogus voter can stuff thousands of bogus ballot papers inside the ballot box. But, an EVM is programmed to record only five votes in a minute. This will frustrate the bogus voters. Further, the maximum number of votes that can be cast in a single EVM is 3840.
- If an EVM goes out-of-order then, the Election Officer, in-charge of the polling booth, can replace the defunct EVM with a spare EVM. The votes recorded until the stage when the EVM went out of order remain safe in the memory of the Control Unit and it is not necessary to start the poll from the beginning.
- The Control Unit can store the result in its memory for 10 years and even more. The battery is required only to activate the EVMs at the time of polling and counting. As soon as the polling is over, the battery can be switched off and this will be required to be switched on only at the time of counting. The battery can be removed as soon as the result is taken and can be kept separately. Therefore, there is no question of battery leaking or otherwise damaging EVMs. Even when the battery is removed the memory in the microchip remains intact. If the Court orders a recount, the Control Unit can be reactivated by fixing the battery and it will display the result stored in the memory.
- Invalid votes can be reduced by use of EVMs. With EVMs, there are much less incidences of invalid votes, i. e. less than 0.02% (source: Tiwari and Herstatt, 2012, p. 17, Table 4). When ballot system was used in India, the number of invalid votes was allegedly more than the winning margin between the candidates in every general elections (source needed).
- Environmental effects of EVMs: For each national election alone it is estimated that about 10,000 tons of ballot paper (roughly 200,000 trees) would be saved. There are of course many more state and city/village level elections and the cost of printing those ballot papers would be also enormous (see: Tiwari and Herstatt, 2012, p. 17).
Usage of an EVM
If the number of candidates is less than the maximum capacity of the EVM, the extra panels are masked before use.
Before the commencement of the polling process, the Presiding Officer demonstrates to the polling agents present that there are no hidden votes already recorded in the machine by pressing the 'Result' button. Then he or she conducts a mock poll by asking the polling agents to record their votes and presses the result button to satisfy them that the result shown is strictly according to the choice recorded by them. Finally the clear button is pressed to clear the result of the mock poll and the unit is sealed before sending it to the respective polling booths. Each Control Unit has a unique ID Number, which is painted on each unit with a permanent marker. This ID Number will be allowed to be noted by the Polling Agents and will also be recorded in a Register maintained for the purpose by the Returning Officer. The address tag attached to the Control Unit also will indicate this ID Number. This is to avoid replacement of a genuine EVM by another one.
As soon as the voter presses the 'blue button' against the candidate and symbol of his choice, a tiny lamp on the left side of the symbol glows red and simultaneously a long beep sound is heard. Thus, there is both audio and visual indications for the voter to be assured that his vote has been recorded.
As soon as the last voter has voted, the Polling Officer in-charge of the Control Unit will press the 'Close' Button. Thereafter, the EVM will not accept any votes. Further, after the close of poll, the Balloting Unit is disconnected from the Control Unit and kept separately. Votes can be recorded only through the Balloting Unit. Again the Presiding officer, at the close of the poll, will hand over to each polling agent present an account of votes recorded. At the time of counting of votes, the total will be tallied with this account and if there is any discrepancy, this will be pointed out by the Counting Agents.
During the counting of votes, the results are displayed by pressing the 'Result' button. There are two safeguards to prevent the 'Result' button from being pressed before the counting of votes officially begins. (a) This button cannot be pressed till the 'Close' button is pressed by the Polling Officer in-charge at the end of the voting process in the polling booth. (b) This button is hidden and sealed; this can be broken only at the counting center in the presence of designated officials.
A candidate can know how many people from a polling station voted for him. For example, in Indian general elections, 2004; the day after the election results were declared, The Times of India, Mumbai carried statistics about which areas in Mumbai voted for which candidate. People from Kandivali gave more votes to Govinda, while people from Borivali polled more votes for his opponent Ram Naik. This is a significant issue particularly if lop-sided votes for/against a candidate are cast in individual polling stations. The Election Commission of India has stated that the manufacturers of the EVMs have developed a 'Totaliser' unit which can connect several Balloting Units and would display only the overall results from an Assembly or a Lok Sabha constituency instead of votes from individual polling stations.
The control units do not electronically transmit their results back the Election Commission, even though a simple and unconditionally secure protocol for doing this exists. The Indian EVMs are purposely designed as stand-alone units to prevent any intrusion during electronic transmission of results. Instead, the EVMs are collected in counting booths and tallied on the assigned counting day(s) in the presence of polling agents of the candidates.
An international conference on the Indian EVMs and its tamperability of the said machines was held under the Chairmanship of Dr. Subramanian Swamy, President of the Janata Party and former Union Cabinet Minister for Law, Commerce and Justice at Chennai on 13 February 2010. This conference received good response and the conclusion was that the Election Commission of India was shirking its responsibility on the transparency in the working of the EVMs.
In April 2010, an independent security analysis was released by a research team led by Hari Prasad, Rop Gonggrijp, and J. Alex Halderman. The study included video demonstrations of two attacks that the researchers carried out on a real EVM, as well as descriptions of several other potential vulnerabilities.
- Easily Hackable:" US Lab says that, this EVM is very easy to hack.
- Before voting: One demonstration attack was based on replacing the part inside the control unit that actually displays the candidates' vote totals. The study showed how a substitute, "dishonest" part could output fraudulent election results. This component can be programmed to steal a percentage of the votes in favour of a chosen candidate.
- After voting: The second demonstration attack used a small clip-on device to manipulate the vote storage memory inside the machine. Votes stored in the EVM between the election and the public counting session can be changed by using a specially made pocket-sized device. When you open the machine, you find micro-controllers, under which are electrically enabled programs, with 'read-only' memory. It is used only for storage. However, you can read and write memory from an external interface. The researchers developed a small clip with a chip on the top to read votes inside the memory and manipulate the data by swapping the vote from one candidate to another.
In order to mitigate these threats, the researchers suggest moving to a voting system that provides greater transparency, such as paper ballots, precinct count optical scan, or a voter verified paper audit trail, since, in any of these systems, sceptical voters could, in principle, observe the physical counting process to gain confidence that the outcome is fair.
But Election Commission of India points out that for such tampering of the EVMs, one needs physical access to EVMs, and pretty high tech skills are required. Given that EVMs are stored under strict security which can be monitored by candidates or their agents all the time, its impossible to gain physical access to the machines. Plus, to impact the results of an election, hundreds to thousands of machines will be needed to tamper with, which is almost impossible given the hi-tech and time consuming nature of the tampering process.
On 25 July 2011, responding to a PIL (Writ Petition (Civil) No. 312 of 2011), Supreme Court of India asked EC to consider request to modify EVMs and respond within 3 months. The petitioner Rajendra Satyanarayan Gilda had alleged that EC has failed to take any decision despite his repeated representation. The petitioner suggested that the EVMs should be modified to give a slip printed with the symbol of the party in whose favour the voter cast his ballot.
On 17 January 2012, Delhi High Court in its ruling on Dr. Subramanian Swamy's Writ Petition (Writ Petition (Civil) No. 11879 of 2009) challenging the use of EVMs in the present form said that EVMs are not "tamper-proof". Further, it said that it is "difficult" to issue any directions to the EC in this regard. However, the court added that the EC should itself hold wider consultations with the executive, political parties and other stake holders on the matter.
Dr Swamy appealed against Delhi High Court's refusal to order a VVPAT system in Supreme Court. On 27 September 2012, Election Commission's advocate Ashok Desai submitted to a Supreme Court bench of Justice P Sathasivam and Justice Ranjan Gogoi that field trial for VVPAT system is in progress and that a status report will be submitted by early January 2013. Desai said that on pressing of each vote, a paper receipt will be printed, which will be visible to the voters inside a glass but cannot be taken out of the machine. To this, Dr Swamy replied that the new system was acceptable to him. The Supreme Court posted the matter for further hearing to 22 January 2013.
Introduction of voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT)
On 8 October 2010 Election Commission appointed an expert technical committee headed by Prof PV Indiresan (former Director of IIT-M) when at an all-party meeting majority of political parties backed the proposal to have a VVPAT in EVMs to counter the charges of tampering. The committee was tasked to examine the possibility of introduction of paper trail so that voters can get a printout that will show symbol of the party to which the vote was cast. After studying the issue, the committee recommended introduction of VVPAT system.
On 21 June 2011, Election Commission accepted Indiresan committee's recommendations and decided to conduct field trials of the system. On 26 July 2011, field trial of VVPAT system was conducted at Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir, Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, Cherrapunjee in Meghalaya, East Delhi in Delhi and Jaisalmer in Rajasthan.
Just 2 days after Delhi High Court judgement saying EVMs are not "tamper-proof", Election Commission on 19 January 2012 ordered Electronics Corporation of India Limited and Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) to make EVMs that will generate a "paper trail" of the vote cast. BEL CMD Anil Kumar said: "The new EVMs' paper trail should make the poll process safer and tamper-proof. EC has given us its requirement for EVMs and work is on to incorporate new features. The EVM software will be modified and a printer attached to it. When you cast a vote, the serial number and "some data" will be generated as a printout. It is to ensure that there is no malpractice in the voting system. " It appears that, when the voter presses the button for the candidate of his choice in the EVM, a paper ballot with the serial number, name and symbol of the candidate will be printed. The printouts will be used later to cross check the voting data stored in the EVMs. Talking about other features in new EVMs, he said the machines will be more rugged and smaller in size but with more computing power.
Nepal, Bhutan, Namibia and Kenya have purchased India-manufactured EVMs. Fiji is expected to use Indian EVMs in the next elections in 2014. Namibia intends on using the EVMs in the Presidential and National elections as electoral law already outlines the procedure for both ballot voting and electronic voting. Several other Asian and African countries are reportedly interested in using them as well.
In October 2006, Netherlands banned all EVMs (with or without paper print out). Problems in ensuring Secrecy of the ballot due to risk of electronic eavesdropping were the reasons for the ban.
In March 2009, after almost two years of debate, German Supreme Court declared that EVMs were unreliable and unconstitutional because the average citizen could not be expected to understand the exact steps involved in the recording and counting of votes.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Indian voting machines.|
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