Even as political parties in India are getting increasingly impatient to get rid of the EVMs, the controversy regarding India’s paperless Direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines seems to have had no impact on our neighbors who are rushing into electronic voting. Or, looking at it from a different perspective and uncharitably, is the heat generated by the EVM controversy in India and the recent expose’ of how their vulnerabilties can be exploited propelling these countries to expedite their plans for e-voting.
Welcome Bangladesh and Pakistan to the club of e-voting nations. Neither of them has an enviable record in democracy and in maintaining integrity of election verdicts. According to sources, Afghanistan may be the next country to take the e-route.
Let me briefly illustrate their e-voting plans before offering my views on the subject.
Bangladesh has indigenously developed its own electronic voting machines. Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology (BUET) has developed these systems. From their description, these voting machines are somewhat similar to our EVMs in design and contain a control unit, ballot unit and a display unit. The units are run by batteries and connected to each other.
Election Commission of Bangladesh is piloting these voting machines in Chittagong City Corporation polls being held on June 17. The Commission is planning to hold next general elections in the country due in 2013 with the help of EVMs.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has also decided to go electronic with its voting. ECP is currently undertaking a feasibility study and intends to issue a final report by July this year after consultations with political parties and civil society, and a demonstration by interested EVM suppliers.
A number of EVM vendors have been called to make demonstrations towards the end of June in the presence of political parties and other stakeholders.
A press release from the Election Commission of Pakistan dated June 2, 2010 states, “In India EVMs have been used in pilot projects since the 1980’s, and have more recently been introduced nationwide for all national and state elections. Bangladesh is also in the process of developing its own EVM, as is Thailand. However, the use of EVMs has not been without its problems elsewhere in the world. Several countries have rejected the use of EVMs entirely, despite using them previously, including Ireland, the Netherlands and Germany. The United States has largely moved towards paper ballot systems with electronic counting technologies.”
The press release added, “The ECP established an EVM Feasibility Study Committee in December 2009….This Committee has since been looking at such issues as; the strengths and weaknesses of the current system of paper balloting in Pakistan; the objectives to be achieved in changing the current system of paper balloting; the advantages and disadvantages of EVM technologies, and how they might meet the specific needs of Pakistan; the budgetary implications of using EVMs; and, the legal implications of using EVMs.”
Indian EVMs, touted as an unmatched success story by the Election Commission of India, are black boxes that have rendered Indian elections non-transparent, unverifiable and unauditable. This sort of voting process seems to fit the bill in many countries with a fragile democratic set up.
Most countries in Europe and the United States with much more robust democratic structures seem unconvinced of the utility of such systems. Despite the widespread problems reported in the U.K. elections a couple of months ago with paper ballots, they remain unconvinced of the use of DRE voting machines in polls.
It is just a matter of time before the EVMs make an exit from the Indian scene. But the Election Commission of India’s contribution would be felt for a long time as these dubious democracies, “inspired” by the Indian experience, continue the e-voting tradition for several decades to come in our region.
I can be reached at nrao@indianEVM.com