Electronic voting machine

Amidst a plethora of disturbing developments in the political arena, a debate is gaining ground on adopting electronic voting machine (EVM), after the Election Commission (EC) disclosed a plan to introduce EVM in the next general election.

Though the leaders of the ruling alliance have sided with EC’s decision and have spoken in favour of adopting EVM, the main opposition BNP has opposed it alleging that it will facilitate vote rigging.

Before going into the deep of discussion, I feel it imperative to make it clear that e-voting and EVM are two different things as many people are confounding e-voting with EVM. Electronic voting which is known as e-voting is a term encompassing several types of voting, embracing both electronic system of casting a vote, storing the voting record in some database, and electronic means of counting votes.

On the other hand, EVMs are set at polling stations and voting is physically supervised by the EC officials as well as the representatives of the candidates. But physical supervision of e-voting is not possible, as it is done within the voter’s sole influence from his personal computer, cell phone or any other devise through Internet. E-voting is not possible in Bangladesh because of the lack of accessibility to personal computers or any other Internet device for every voter.

The EC is considering the second option, which is the EVM for voters, used for capturing the ballot. The EVM consists of two units that can be inter-linked: one, a ballot unit which a voter uses to exercise his vote and the other, a control unit – used by the polling officials.

The EVM retains all the characteristics of voting by ballot papers, while making polling a lot more expedient. Being fast and absolutely reliable, the EVM saves considerable time, money and manpower. And, of course, helps maintain total voting secrecy without the use of ballot papers.

The EVM is tamper proof. And, at the end of the polling, just by pressing a button, you will get the results. As a simple voting device, it displays the list of candidates. A facility to incorporate party names and symbols is in-built in EVMs. What the voters need to do, is to press the desired button located next to the name of each candidate.

The main advantage of using EVM is the speed, apart from the simplicity of operation, which requires no training at all. A single ballot unit takes in the names of 16 candidates. And thus, by connecting four ballot units the EVM can accommodate a total of 64 candidates in a single election. Moreover, this electronic unit provides all necessary information at a press of a few buttons. For instance, if one needs to know the total number of votes casted, he just has to press the Total switch.

To start polling with EVM, the polling officer needs to activate the “Ballot” switching on the control unit. The voter then has to press the button of his choice on the “Ballot” unit. This is followed by a short beep sound, indicating that the vote has been cast. Once again, the polling officer has to press the “Ballot” switch to clear the machine for the next voter to cast his vote.

Once polling is completed, the election results can be known instantly at the counting station by pressing the “Result” switch. This switch is located in a sealed compartment of the control unit. Generally, an EVM displays results on the display panel of the control unit. But a printout option is available with the use of a Download Adaptor Unit (DAU). With the help of a modem, the transmission of voting information can also be possible to a distant centralised computer.

The EVM for electorates have been in use since the 1960s when punched card system was debuted. Their first widespread use was in the USA where its seven states switched to this system for the 1964 presidential election. Now EVM is in use in many countries including some developing countries.

The direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines which collect and tabulate votes in a single machine, are used by all voters in all elections in Brazil and India, and also on a large scale in the Venezuela and the USA. They are also used on a large scale in the Netherlands but have been decommissioned after public concerns. Internet voting systems have gained popularity and have been used for general elections and referendums in the UK, Estonia, Switzerland and Canada and party primary elections in the United States and France.

In 2004, India had adopted EVM for its elections to Parliament with 380 million voters had cast their ballots using more than a million voting machines. At present almost the entire population of India uses EVM to cast ballots and approximately 1.4 million EVMs of DRE variety are in use there. With DRE’s, absolute trust is placed in the hardware and software of the voting machines, it record votes to internal memory and provide no paper records for later inspection or recount.

Proponents argue that EVMs are secured, able to unambiguously capture the intent of a voter, capable of preventing residual votes, reliable, easy to use, calculate and report voting results faster, and are accessible to disabled, illiterate, and non-English speaking voters.

Opponents of the EVMs argue that DREs give too much power over public elections to their private manufacturers, are vulnerable to hacking and other forms of tampering, do not allow for meaningful audits and recounts, and do not offer voters a trustworthy way to verify their votes.

The BNP is stiffly opposing adoption of EVM alleging that it will facilitate vote rigging but failed to explain how an EVM can facilitate it. We have seen that no election in the country was free from the allegations of vote rigging though held under conventional voting system. It is also quite funny that the BNP opposing adoption of EVM in spite of the fact that, a BNP-backed candidate won in the Chittagong City Corporation election, where EVMs were used on an experimental basis.

The editors and senior journalists of different print and electronic media came up with their opinions in a view-exchange meeting with EC who advocated in favour of adoption of EVM and suggested to carry out publicity and gain support of the opposition in favour of EVM.

Adoption of EVM in the process of building a “Digital Bangladesh” is surely a befitting idea and this technological advancement must not be viewed with partisan outlook. Some quarter also opposed adoption of one ballot box system in the 1970 election which was wrong. However, EC may consider adoption of EVM in the upcoming Dhaka City Corporation election to prove that EVM makes vote rigging more difficult.