Tuesday, July 5, 2011

India Tests E-Voting System Under Extreme Conditions

What better way to demonstrate the viability, reliability, and security of an electronic voting system than to put this system through its paces in the second most heavily populated country in the world? That is precisely what is being planned, as a prototype of an Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) with a verifiable paper trail is set to be tested in 200 locations all around India. This series tests is scheduled to take place by the middle of July.

This certainly isn't the first time that electronic voting has been used in India. In fact, India has had electronic voting since 1999 and e-voting has been the standard since 2002. The key difference with the new series of tests is that the system will be using a verifiable paper trail with a printed voting receipt.

The new prototype is similar in scope to other e-voting machines with a verifiable paper trail that have been developed and used in such countries around the world as the United States, Venezuela, Brazil, and Belgium. It is important that these systems be integrated with the capability for audits and a verifiable paper trail is one measure to provide this.

India presents a unique opportunity for the advancement of e-voting, as it provides an environment that can be quite challenging and extreme in a number of different ways:

  1. Extreme Climate: The weather in India is anything but homogenous. In Ladakh, engineers can expect to overcome freezing temperatures, while Jaisalmer is a much hotter climate. Some areas of India can be remarkably arid, while coastal areas can be quite humid. It is important that all the electronic components of the EVM are able to operate efficiently, effectively, and reliably under such conditions. Similarly, the quality of the paper used for the paper trail needs to be assessed, particularly because of the harsh physical conditions of the various regions in India. Paper receipts in retail stores can be very poor, for instance, with the printed information fading too easily. Such fading is unacceptable for the audit of a ballot.
  2. Literacy Concerns: While many of the people who live closer to the city centers in India are literate, there are still many populations within India where literacy can continue to be an issue. As such, the voting machines have to be able to address these unique needs. A touchscreen is one possibility, as it may be able to minimize the impact of literacy concerns and physical disabilities. Private headphones can address visual impairment.
  3. Logistics and Infrastructure: As with all other electronic voting machines, it is important that the ballots be transported securely and efficiently. The logistics of digital delivery around the country, as well as transporting the documents involved in the verifiable paper trail, also needs to be addressed. More remote areas in India could prove to be a particularly profound challenge.
India has been using electronic voting for a number of years, but they are also looking for ways that the system can be improved and updated. It is possible that they have turned to companies like Smartmatic, analyzing the EVMs developed by that company. These machines have been used successfully in elections in Venezuela, the Philippines, Netherlands Antilles, and more.

The population in India is decidedly larger, so if the new EVMs with a verifiable paper trail offer a positive demonstration during the upcoming testing process in July, that result would bode well for the use of electronic voting in all sorts of other countries.