The runaway locomotive of EVMs

Context

This article talks about both the side of coins of technology i.e. advantages and disadvantages.

A short story for better understanding

In December 1841 near Reading, England. A Great Western Railway luggage train travelling from London Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads station had just entered Sonning Cutting. Rain had loosened the soil next to the track, which had caused mud to spill on to the track and cover it. This forced the broad gauge locomotive, containing three third-class passenger carriages and some heavy goods wagons, to derail. Eight passengers died on the spot and many were seriously injured. One passenger died later in hospital.

The tragedy set in process a largely unremarked legal change: it led to the abolishment of ‘deodands’. Deodands were penalties imposed on ‘moving objects that caused deaths’. After the Sonning Cutting accident, a deodand of £1,000 (about £100,000 today) was imposed on the train engine. This was, however, never paid (how could it be?), and five years later deodands were abolished.

Deodand is a thing forfeited or given to God, specifically, in law, an object or instrument which becomes forfeit because it has caused a person’s death

An opportunity and a danger

Electronic voting machines represent such an opportunity — and danger. But because too much capital is invested in selling and replicating these systems, the opportunities and advantages are currently drummed up more than the dangers.

Issue

Electronic voting machines have been accused of advertent or inadvertent ‘flaws’ in many countries, including India. But governments argue that some malfunctioning is inevitable when we use voting systems in vast lands with great educational disparity.

Significance

An attacker with brief access to EVMs can tamper with votes and potentially change election outcomes. We demonstrate two attacks that involve physically tampering with the EVMs’ hardware.

Dishonest election insiders or other criminals could alter election results by replacing parts of the machines with malicious look-alike parts. Such attacks could be accomplished without the involvement of any local poll officials.

Attackers could use portable hardware devices to change the vote records stored in the machines. This attack could be carried out by local election officials without being detected by the national authorities or the EVM manufacturers.

Basics

Electronic Voting Machines (“EVM”) are being used in Indian General and State Elections to implement electronic voting in part from 1999 elections and recently in 2017 state elections held in five states across India. EVMs have replaced paper ballots in local, state and general (parliamentary) elections in India.

Benefits

The cost per EVM was ₹5,500 (equivalent to ₹42,000 or US$640 in 2017) at the time the machines were purchased in 1989–90. The cost was estimated to be ₹10,500 (equivalent to ₹12,000 or US$180 in 2017) per unit as per an additional order issued in 2014.

Even though the initial investment was heavy, it has since been expected to save costs of production and printing of crores of ballot papers, their transportation and storage, substantial reduction in the counting staff and the remuneration paid to them.

For each national election, it is estimated that about 10,000 tonnes of ballot paper is saved. EVMs are easier to transport compared to ballot boxes as they are lighter, more portable, and come with polypropylene carrying cases. Vote counting is also faster.

In places where illiteracy is a factor, illiterate people find EVMs easier than ballot paper system. Bogus voting is greatly reduced as the vote is recorded only once.

Limitations

A candidate can know how many people from a polling station voted for him. This is a significant issue particularly if lop-sided votes for/against a candidate are cast in individual polling stations and the winning candidate might show favoritism or hold grudge on specific areas.

The Election Commission of India has stated that the manufacturers of the EVMs have developed a Totaliser unit which can connect several balloting units and would display only the overall results from an Assembly or a Lok Sabha constituency instead of votes from individual polling stations.

 

 

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