Updated EVMs found to be less risky
Experts have said that the electronic voting machine (EVM) is more secure than the manual system. They observed that the EVM model being used by the Election Commission (EC), involves no "extra risk" other than the ones prevailing in the manual voting system.
In the EVM, certain micro-chips can be used to modify the programme to tamper with the number of votes in favour of an electoral symbol. However, there is no risk of remote vote-tampering, as the machines are not interconnected or linked to a central server. The design documents of EVMs, prepared by researchers of the Institute of Information and Communication Technology (IICT) of BUET, explains the whole system of casting votes through the machines. According to IICT documents, each EVM has a smart card and a machine will only be functional if that particular smart card is installed. The EC provides these smart cards to assistant presiding officers of a polling centre. EVMs consist of two units - control unit and ballot unit - connected with each other by a wire. The control unit is to be placed in front of the assistant presiding officer, while the ballot unit would remain inside the polling booth.
The control unit has a digital display and several switches - "Ballot", "Start", "Close", "Memory Clear", "Demo Result" and "Final Result". The voting process is initiated by pressing the "Start" button. If an experimental vote remains stored in the machine memory, then the "Start" switch will not work until that vote is deleted. To delete the vote, one has to use the ‘Memory Clear’ switch. Once the "Start" switch is pressed, no experimental vote can be cast and the "Memory Clear" switch becomes dysfunctional.
The "Demo Result" button is used to see the result of experimental voting. It also becomes dysfunctional with the pressing of the "Start" button.
By pressing the "Ballot" switch, assistant presiding officers start the ballot unit and send voters to booths to cast their votes. As soon as a vote is cast, the ballot unit becomes dysfunctional until the next pressing of the "Ballot" button.
The "Close" switch is used to stop the whole voting process of a polling centre permanently. Once this switch is pressed, EVMs can only be used to see results by pressing the "Final Result" button.
The ballot unit has a display comprising all electoral symbols and names of the candidates. A voter can cast his/her vote only if the green light at the upper portion of the ballot machine is on. The green light can only be on if the assistant presiding officer presses the "Ballot" button from the control unit.
A voter can press a switch against his preferred electoral symbol only once. Once the switch is pressed, the vote is cast and it will be displayed at the control unit display and stored in the memory chip.
Also, when a vote is cast, the red light at the lower portion of the EVM will light up. After that, if a voter presses the switch again for several times, no more votes will be cast.
Also, if a voter presses several switches of electoral symbols at one time, he/she will hear a shrill beep. This means that the vote has not been cast. The voter then has to press only one switch to cast his/her vote.
Each ballot unit can accommodate 12 electoral symbols. If the number of candidates is more than 12, then more ballot units can be added to the machines. Each machine runs on 12 volts of electricity, so there is no risk of getting electric shock. Also, the machines’ battery power stays for 12 hours, thus making the machine not vulnerable to power cuts.
Explaining the EVM security measures, Prof. Dr Lutful Kabir, director of IICT and the head researcher of the EVM project, told The Independent that the ballot unit of the EVM becomes dysfunctional for 10 seconds after a vote is cast.
Even if assistant presiding officers and voters have an illicit understanding for vote tampering, the malpractice would not work as the display at the control unit shows the casting of vote and the ballot unit cannot be started within the next 10 seconds, by which time the voter has to get out of the booth in presence of polling agents.
Also if party cadres invade a polling centre, the voting process can be stopped instantly by pressing the “Close” switch. Removal of smart cards will also make the machines dysfunctional.
“Suppose, an assistant presiding officer helps a party cadre to cast his vote. This will have to be done by pressing the electoral symbol switch at the ballot unit. However, this process will take a lot of time as only five votes can be cast per minute,” said Dr Kabir.
“So the EVM system is much more secure than the manual one, where the polling centres can be invaded and ballot boxes can easily be replaced to alter election results,” he added.
Prof Kabir said each EVM has a programme installed which functions as per the election rules. “This programme is installed in the EVMs at the time of election, only after being verified by a panel of experts. Once the programme is installed, it can’t be changed, so there is no risk of vote-tampering at the field level,” he added.
But he admits that no electronic system is totally secure. The smart card, which is supplied to assistant presiding officers, can be duplicated and such fake cards can alter polling results. “However, in that case, the password with the smart card needs to be hacked. That is not easy,” he said.
Also, if a centre is invaded, then certain microchips can be installed in the EVM to alter the pre-installed programme and change the election result, he said. “But these are also possible in a manual voting system. And the security measures that are taken in the EVM is much more secure than that of the manual one,” he added.
Sources said the EVM model that has been used in Bangladesh has similarities with the ones used in India. A US experts group termed the Indian EVM system faulty, even though India is considered one of the countries to have successfully adopted the EVM.
About the Indian EVM, Dr Kabir said the Bangladeshi EVM is more secure because of its smart card system. “Also, our EVM doesn’t have touch screens like that of the Indian machines which can be hacked through remote sensors,” he said.
Talking to The Independent, the Election Commissioner, Brig Gen Sakhwat Hossain, said the EVM is a secured as well as a cost-effective voting medium.
“In the last election, a total of Tk. 1,027 crore were spent. After introducing EVMs, the cost of the election would be no more than Tk. 900 crore. Also, EVMs last for more than 15 years without technical difficulties,” he said. When asked whether the EC has sufficient technical personnel to look after the machines, Sakhwat said the EC would establish a technical unit for the purpose.
He said the EVMs designed by the IICT are much more secure and modern. “The EVM is probably the most accurate choice for holding a fair election,” he said.