EVMs, a threat to Democracy

Opposition leader Boko said, “Since independence, Botswana has received international acclaim for holding free and fair elections and other democratic credentials. We cannot afford to negate such an impeccable record through an unnecessary use of EVMs. 

The Opposition in India has not only opposed the use of  Electronic voting machines in elections but in Botswana as well, the credibility of EVMs is in question as the main opposition party, Botswana Congress party has moved court against its government’s move to amend laws that enabled the use of the voting machines.

Skepticism about electronic voting methods is not limited to India. Diamond-rich Botswana is currently witnessing intense political debates over the use of electronic voting machines ( EVMs) imported from India. The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has proposed to use the EVMs with the voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) to conduct its 2019 general elections.Botswana has 57 constituencies and around 6,000 polling stations.

The leader of Opposition in Parliament and President of Botswana National Front (BNF), Duma Boko, has warned the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) not to create chaos or destroy the peace and tranquillity of the country.

Botswana Opposition argued that Opposition parties in India have repeatedly voiced their concerns to the Election Commission of India over the alleged tampering on the EVMs during polls and demanded reintroduction of paper ballots in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and Samajwadi party chief Akhilesh  Yadav called for elections using paper ballots. As faulty EVMs and VVPATs marred bypolls to Kairana Lok Sabha and Noorpur assembly seats, Akhilesh called it a “dangerous trend for democracy”.

Botswana government and its election commission have even requested ECI’s experts to hold a demonstration of the EVM and VVPAT before a court to dispel doubts over the machines.

Doubts about digital voting methods are so widespread that almost all developed countries have preferred to use analog methods of franchise enumeration instead. In the US and Western Europe, more states have been opting out of electronic voting systems and returned to paper ballots due to concerns over the technical glitches. In Europe, only France, Belgium and Estonia allow votes to be cast digitally. Many American states and European countries have refused to use EVMs after finding that electronic votes or the software on machines can be easily hacked into and manipulated.

 Congress leader and lawyer P Chidambaram said that both the hardware and software of the EVMs were “vulnerable” and could be tampered with. Hence, a paper trail was necessary for accuracy, he said.

After spending close to $75 million on its EVMs, Ireland found them to be so insecure they literally scrapped them.

 In 2006 Dutch TV aired a documentary showing how easy it was to hack the EVMs that were about to be used in their general election. The machines were subsequently withdrawn and the Netherlands went back to paper ballots.

The US Election Assistance Commission Chairman Tom Hicks has stated that the “primary reasons” paper ballots are used in most states are “security and voter preference”.

Another argument put forward by politicians is that paper ballots have been “accurately modelled from decades of polling and analysis”.

 BCP is a member of Botswana’s opposition bloc, Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC). Members of UDC include Botswana National Front (BNF), Botswana Congress Party (BCP), Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) and Botswana People’s Party (BPP).

Duma Boko said that “Since independence, Botswana has received international acclaim for holding free and fair elections and other democratic credentials. We cannot afford to negate such an impeccable record through an unnecessary use of EVMs.”

The government should consider holding a referendum so that Batswana exercise their democratic right to vote on the proposed political reform.

Both Botswana government and Bharat Technologies officials insist that the machines cannot be hacked. Gaborone Bonnington South MP, Ndaba Gaolathe counters such assertion by pointing to research evidence from the University of Michigan in the United States which not only hacked into the Indian EVMs but also wrote a paper dispelling the idea of the infallibility of those machines.

“A pressure group in the Netherlands has demonstrated that it is possible to hack the machines within five minutes, from a distance of 40 meters, without being detected by those supervising the operations of the machines. Also, new heat technology/infrared exists with which those with the know-how can identify how votes are being cast in real time, in breach of ballot secrecy obligations,” Gaolathe said.

New York Times article ‘The Myth of the Hacker-Proof Voting Machine’ also provides startling revelations backed by technical findings and expert interviews that EVMs can be hacked due to data leakage and various other methods.EVMs can be hacked using smartphones able to connect to the voting machines wireless network which is used to tally votes. Another Professor J. Alex Halderman of the University of Michigan had said that a homemade device allowed them to change the results on an EVM by sending it wireless messages from a mobile phone.

Blog: By Arti Bali,

(Senior Journalist)

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