• Tue. Sep 20th, 2022

Trust in the electoral commission is more important than the GEV

ByChad J. Johnson

Sep 19, 2022

The Electoral Commission (EC) has decided that in the elections for the 12th National Assembly, 150 seats will be voted by electronic voting machines (EVM).

A day after issuing an official statement on “the impossibility of reaching a decision on EVM” after dialogue with political parties, the EC decided to use EVM in half of the seats in the legislative elections .

With the exception of the ruling Awami League, all political parties, whether or not they participated in the dialogue, were against the use of EVM. Opposition views on EVM were taken and then ignored.

Thus, an old, seemingly endless debate has been revived.

The Election Commission and the ruling party argue that the use of EVM will ensure a free and fair election in 2023. Their argument is essentially that EVM is technologically superior to traditional voting methods.

Unfortunately, the democratic impasse and the crisis of the electoral system in Bangladesh are actually political. Allegations of rigging are made regardless of whether technologies such as EVM were used or not.

The 2018 national elections – where EVMS were only used in six constituencies – were marred by allegations of rigging that were never investigated by the electoral commission. In the last municipal election, a mayoral candidate filed a petition with the electoral tribunal to overturn the results of a vote by EVM, again alleging rigging.

The matter remains unresolved as the Commission failed to provide the court with all records, seals, voter cards, audit cards, SD card records, logbooks, information on EC officials and persons assigned to various tasks related to the EVM, as requested by the court.

Judicial or bureaucratic solutions to political crises do not really work. Therefore, this begs the question, what is the use of a technical solution like EVM to a political crisis emerging from a lack of trust?

The problem with EVM

Dr. Alex Halderman has researched EVMs in the US state of California and found evidence that EVMs in the US are not tamper proof. The use of EVM is prohibited in more than 22 US states, including the State of California. Additionally, EVM is banned in Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, England, France and Italy.

The global debate on EVM started in 1982 when the first EVM was introduced in India. In a local election in the Indian state of Kerala, Congress leader AC Jose went to the Kerala High Court after losing to the Communist Party’s N Sivan Pillai in 50 EVM centres. Later in 1984, after new elections were held by Supreme Court order, Jose won in those same 50 districts by ballot.

Much work has been done in Europe and America to reform voting systems. The EVM system is not used there, yet voter security and privacy are assured. This is done by two levels of identification. Initially, the ballot paper issued is subject to verification of the information bank and the national identity card brought to the polling station, or, in the case of postal voting, the ticket containing the QR code , is sent to the postal address . Online voting also has multi-layered security protection.

In contrast, in Bangladesh, we have only one layer of identification, after which it is very easy for the musclemen of a political party to take over the voting booth. If EVM is in use, all they need to do is press the button for their preferred candidate. Then there is of course the question of whether the technology can be tampered with.

Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Sujan), a non-governmental organization, pointed out that one of the weaknesses of EVM is that there is no voter-verified paper audit trail or verifiable paper record that is attached to the EVM, for example as required by the Supreme Court. from India.

Thanks to a verifiable paper record, it is possible to determine who voted for and, at the same time, the vote can be recounted if there is a question about the election at the end of the vote count.

With EVM, there are also two other serious problems. First, not everyone is included in biometric databases. Second, electronic voting machines are often unable to identify and match the fingerprints of farmers and other labor-intensive workers, as well as the elderly.

The electoral commission authorized its officials to overwrite these EVMs, in at least 25% of cases, in case the machine could not read the fingerprints. This means that while the election official can upload the identity of the voter, if a voter is absent, the election official can also vote on their behalf.

Except for a few constituencies like Gopalganj or Bogura in Bangladesh, most parliamentary constituencies in Bangladesh are effectively contested constituencies. Poll results from the 1991 and 1996 elections show that more than 50% of the seats were won or lost by just 10% of the total votes cast.

If there is no proper biometric database (recently the birth registration data of millions of citizens has been lost), if the fingerprints of workers and the elderly do not match; even if there is no other form of fraud, the mere fact that officials vote a certain percentage of absentee voters can alter the overall results of an election.

The EC has not provided any technical explanation as to why EVMs in Bangladesh need to be turned on exactly at eight o’clock in the morning and synchronized, and why EVMs synchronized earlier do not work.

At precisely four o’clock, the machine stops voting. If there is a technical error, or the machine freezes, or there is a local problem, there is no explanation as to why voters waiting in line should walk away without voting.

Saifur Rahman, a senior computer engineer with the Australian civil service, wrote in a local newspaper that it is not difficult to tamper with the voting results by injecting malware into the machine through any connected port of entry. at the EVM.

It is possible to remotely control the EVM by secretly connecting a mobile phone, a SIM type IC, a hidden device or a data input port inside the EVM device, even when there is no internet connection.

The EVMs used in Bangladesh only have a digital audit trail. There is a risk of invasion of privacy. Since the system is also software-driven, the risk of hacking also remains.

Having every EVM motherboard examined by forensic experts just before the election and saving the digital fingerprint of every piece of software after it are daunting tasks.

Hardware list, circuit design, hard drive forensic copy and other necessary information regarding all machines (approximately 40,000 polls and thousands of dollars worth of EVMs) are not shared with not all major political parties and anyway with all major political parties do not have the technical capacity to verify them.

Finally, there is the issue of cost. Each of the EVM in Bangladesh costs Tk2 lakh. In contrast, an EVM in India currently costs only Rs 17,000. There are rental fees, technical management fees, maintenance fees and expert consultation fees for maintaining EVMs in 64 districts.

In times of continuing economic crisis and austerity, buying EVM machines for 150 seats is also an unnecessary luxury. Even after all this expense, a free and fair election does not depend on EVM, but on the election commissioners and field administration officials who will conduct the elections.

Trust in the EC and the voting system is more important than the EVM. Unfortunately, the truth is that the opposition political parties do not trust the EC in this country. Our last two consecutive elections have been quite controversial, but now the EC is fueling a new controversy with the EVM.

Dr. Rakib Al Hasan is a doctor, author, activist and youth leader.

His Twitter account is @rakibalhasan_bd

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.