Archive for May 26th, 2009

Doubts on EVM? – ‘ Democracy’s beep or blip? Evgeny Morozov – The Indian Express’

May 26, 2009

Doubts over EVM? – ‘ Democracy’s beep or blip? Evgeny Morozov – The Indian Express’

While Congress electoral sweep appeared to the entire Indian nation as incredible as well as welcome, doubts seems to be rising in some quarters about electronic voting. This morning Indian Express has very pointedly borrowed and published an article from Newsweek, to give a hint of the need to probe, if there was some hanky panky behind this sweeping electoral victory that has stunned friends and foes of Congress alike.  

Other factors that rake up doubts are US envoy’s personal visits to L.K. Advani (NDA) and Chandra Babu Naidu ( ref:Third Front), two days before the election results were to be announced, and the presence of Navin Chawla, a widely believed Congress sympathiser, at the helm of the affair. 

If such doubts get substantiated by a neutral agency, Indian democracy and 700 million Indian voters have reason to be appearing as being defrauded on a colossal scale.

Ghulam Muhammed, Mumbai


Democracy’s beep or blip?


While India basks in the success of another e-election, electronic voting machines haven’t found much favour in other countries WHEN Ireland embarked on an ambitious e-voting scheme in 2006 that would dispense with “stupid old pencils”, as thenprime minister Bertie Ahern put it, in favour of fancy touchscreen voting machines, it seemed that the nation was embracing its technological future. Three years and euro 51 million later, in April, the government scrapped the initiative.High costs were one concern—finishing the project would take another euro 28 million. But what doomed the effort was a lack of trust: the electorate just didn’t like that the machines would record their votes as mere electronic blips, with no tangible record. 

A backlash against e-voting is brewing all over the continent.

After almost two years of deliberations, Germany’s Supreme Court ruled in March that e-voting was unconstitutional because the average citizen could not be expected to understand the exact steps involved in the recording and tallying of votes. Political scientist Joachim Wiesner and his son Ulrich, a physicist, filed the initial lawsuit and have been instrumental in raising public awareness of the insecurity of electronic voting. In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, the younger Wiesner said that the Dutch Nedap machines used in Germany are even less secure than mobile phones. The Dutch public-interest group Wij Vertrouwen Stemcomputers Niet (We Do Not Trust Voting Machines) produced a video showing how quickly the Nedap machines could be hacked without voters or election officials being aware (the answer: five minutes). After the clip was broadcast on national television in October 2006, the Netherlands banned all electronic voting machines.

Other such electronic-voting inconsistencies have only added to the controversy. After Hugo Chavez won the 2004 election in Venezuela, it came out that the government owned 28 per cent of Bizta, the company that manufactured the voting machines.

Why are the machines so vulnerable? Each step in the life cycle of a voting machine involves different people gaining access to the machines, often installing new software. It wouldn’t be hard for, say, an election official to plant a “Trojan” programme on one or many voting machines that would ensure one outcome or another, even before voters arrived at the stations.

One way to reduce the risk of fraud is to have machines print a paper record of each vote. While this procedure would ensure that each vote can be verified, using paper ballots defeats the purpose of electronic voting in the first place.

Using two machines produced by different manufacturers would decrease the risk of a security compromise, but wouldn’t eliminate it.

A better way is to expose the software behind electronic voting machines to public scrutiny. The root problem of popular electronic machines is that the computer programmes that run them are usually closely held trade secrets. The electronic-voting industry argues that openness would hurt the competitive position of the current market leaders. A report released by the Election Technology Council, a US trade association, in April says that disclosing information on known vulnerabilities might help would-be attackers more than those who would defend against such attacks. But making such disclosure mandatory for all electronic voting machines would be a good first step for the Obama administration, consistent with his talk about openness in government.

He’d better hurry, though, before a wave of populism kills electronic voting. State and local governments across the US, much like European governments, are getting increasingly impatient with e-voting. Riverside County in California is considering asking voters to choose between e-voting and paper ballots in a referendum. Voters would be justified in dispensing with e-voting altogether. Atthe moment, there’s very little to like about it.