Friday, June 22, 2012

India, the natural migration towards paper trail voting machines

In May 2004, the world’s largest democracy conducted its first automated national elections using approximately one million Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) to allow 671 million voters express their preference. This event was the culmination of a long and progressive adoption process that started in 1977.

The Direct-Recording Electronic Voting Machines used, were developed by a public sector company, the Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL), with the purpose of bringing higher levels of transparency and accuracy to elections.

In spite of the considerable benefits automation brought forth to this nation, since February 2010, the Indian Electoral Commission has been receiving complaints from different activists groups, political parties, and researchers who challenge the system’s precarious security features. Their main argument has been the EVMs’ vulnerability to tampering at stages such as: the moment the software that runs them is burned onto their chips, while the machines are stored before an election, and during the period between the voting and the tallying.

These same detractors of the technology used in India consider that, by providing a Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT), the problem could be solved. The VVPAT represents a simple mechanism that allows contrasting the electronic results with the manual counts of the paper trail. Any candidate, in the event of a suspicion of tampering, could request a recount on the basis of the paper records. One such system was developed by the world leader in electronic voting Smartmatic and has been used, with great results, in Venezuela and other countries since the year 2004. In fact, Venezuela’s 2004 presidential recall referendum constituted the first election in the world in which a printed receipt was produced by the machine with each vote.

To comply with the growing request for transparency, Indian electoral authorities demanded their two EVMs suppliers, government-run Bharat Electronics Ltd and Electronics Corp. of India Ltd, to adapt the voting machines and include the printing of a paper record. The printed receipt will allow voters to verify that their vote was cast correctly, to detect possible election fraud or malfunction, and to provide a means to audit the stored electronic results.

In the last few months, field tests have already been conducted with unsatisfactory results. According to analysts and authorities, approximately one in 20 votes polled in Delhi, one of the four places where the pilot poll was conducted, did not have a corresponding paper ballot. Such a high level of discrepancies has prompted authorities to delay the implementation of EVM with VVPAT in real elections until more satisfactory results are achieved in the field tests.

India, together with Brazil and the United States, were pioneers in the adoption of voting technology. With a voting population of 714 million, representing 23% of the entire voting population of the world, India needs to migrate towards VVPAT to keep up with the citizens’ demands.