Fwd: the indian machine

From: Joseph Lorenzo Hall <joehall_at_gmail_dot_com>
Date: Fri Dec 31 2004 - 10:57:29 CST

This is a bit of information from a friend about the [Indian
electronic voting machine][1]... I thought some of you might see that
requirements in different countries can be **vastly** different. Of
course, another neat discussion of low-fi voting is Doug's piece on
["Fair Elections under Military Occupation: Suggestions inspired by
the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan"][2]... I wonder what Doug would
think of using a simple machine like this in Iraq? Happy new year all,

[1]: http://www.eci.gov.in/EVM/
[2]: http://www.cs.uiowa.edu/~jones/voting/occupation.html

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Subject: the indian machine
To: joehall@pobox.com


you may remember our conversation about the Indian electronic vote
machine about six weeks ago. [...]

Unfortunately, [...] refused to call the election commission, rather
bluntly saying that what the commission didn't put it on the web, the
commission didn't want me to see.

He was more than willing to talk about the machine's use in practice,
though, and what he said rather surprised me. He counted the machine as
a pure blessing for him (in his role of voting official), and for a
number of reasons which would not have occured to me. All this may be
familiar to you, but just in case, I'll type up what I remember.

The old paper votes were very difficult to print, distribute and guard
properly. They had to be closely guarded to counter very inventive
scams. There were problems printing them, because there were too few
presses with the required security. There would be too many errors
discovered at the last moment, necessitating re-printing. There were
manpower problems, because the voting forms had to be stored in a
sealed room guarded 24h/day by police. In many villages, it was
difficult to find an acceptable room for storage at all. After the
vote, the same problems applied to the cast votes.

The forms used to be serial numbered and forgery-proof, so that an
attacker with his own press couldn't inject votes in any practical way.
Diverting officially printed votes was necessary.

Counting the votes in a way which prevented injection of forged votes
was a big pain. Not difficult, but painful.

All this has disappeared, since the machines are easy to guard and the
only valuable result is a short list of public information: As soon as
the voting booth closes at the end of the day, the totals are read out,
written down, the list is signed and carried off.

There were frequent voting booth attacks, particularly in Bihar and
easter U.P.. In the villages, everyone knows each other, and everyone
knows who votes for whom, so when the losing candidate doesn't sees his
own supporters turn up, he knows he's about to lose. Quite often, the
result would be a "takeover": The loser's goons storm the booth and
either burn the ballot box or stuff it, gun in hand.

These problems too are more or less gone: The losing candidate's goons
now storm in, brandish their guns, tear the machine to shreds, and 3-4
days later the election is held again. The voting machine is
purposefully extremely simple and cheap, so its loss is negligible.

Finally, a lot of illiterates had difficulty voting with pen and paper.
Duh. I felt very stupid when I heard that. There would be a lot of
hard-to-decipher or invalid votes (1-5%, potentially higher given a
concerted attacker), whereas on the machine, people get it right.

None of this is relevant to the US, of course, and to you, it's all
hearsay anyway. Americans can read and write, there are lots of rooms
with lockable doors in the US, etc. But such arguments can support the
idea that using the Indian type of machine is a good idea in countries
like India, no matter whether Diebold-like machines are a good idea in
a rich country.


Joseph Lorenzo Hall
UC Berkeley, SIMS PhD Student
blog: http://pobox.com/~joehall/nqb2/
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Received on Fri Dec 31 23:17:21 2004

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