Electronic voting machines: why & why not | By Dr Abdus Sattar Abbasi


Electronic voting machines: why & why not

The OPPOSITION’s sit-in campaign after the 2013 election and the focus on opening four constituencies, three of which were lost in re-election, for further investigation as a litmus test to determine irregularities during the general elections opened several dimensions for future electoral reforms.

Widespread unrest has instilled a widespread desire for transparency and verifiability of election results.

We can hardly find an individual who is not disturbed by the controversies surrounding our general election.

Those interested in political activities began to argue loudly after the 2014 sit-in campaign to find solutions to eliminate electoral manipulation. The adoption of technology has remained the main argument in deliberations to counter such abusive practices.

However, dysfunctions of the RTS (Results Transmission Network) in 2018 raised common suspicions and raised questions about the reliability of technological interventions during legislative elections.

A significant segment of society sees the collapse of the RTS as an intention to alter the election results.

The failure of RTS-run jargons from opposition parties such as “selected” and “najaiz”, which is certainly a threat to the legitimacy of the current government.

The controversy between the NADRA (National Database and Registration Authority) and the ECP (Election Commission of Pakistan) over the RTS or RMS (Result Management System) flop coupled with the alleged forced eviction of election officials from polling stations in two traditional parties during the vote count raised doubts and strengthened common beliefs about electoral manipulation.

Managing technological interventions to manipulate election results was a new learning curve for the common man, as other forms of rigging, including pre-election and election day, were all known realities.

Now, the extraordinary insistence of the Treasury banks to introduce the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) for the next election raises several questions such as: are we ready to adopt EVMs despite our failure to manage a simple application like RTS? What are the results of developed countries that already use GEV? Who will develop the EVMs and what will be the role of the PCE in the development of the EVMs? What will be the accreditation process for EVMs, including software? What will be the mechanism for dealing with 21st century security threats on machines such as EVMs? What will be the legal framework to deal with all aspects of EVM operations, including security requirements?

According to the New Yorker, James Clapper, the former director of US national intelligence, said: “He and other intelligence officials produced – and shared with Trump – a post-election report confirming a large-scale cyberattack by the United States. Russia in the 2016 US elections ”.

Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, a Republican, has previously said: “What we cannot do, however, is calculate the impact that foreign interference and social media have had on this election.”

Joel Benenson, the Clinton campaign pollster, said: “Some world power has messed up our election, every American should be outraged whether it changes the outcome or not.

But did the interference change the outcome? How will we ever know? We probably won’t, until some Russians involved in this case are actually prosecuted – or a Republican, in a moment of conscience, talks about it. ”

If this is the most scientifically advanced nation’s level of powerlessness in our time to determine technological interference, then how can we rely on our ability to deal with any interference from across borders? The secret agencies of two countries are not missing any opportunity against Pakistan.

Secret agencies in any of these countries are quite capable of causing significant damage, as has happened in the near past with Pegasus spyware all over the world.

We can become stones that roll in the hands of these countries; they will have in their hands a practical tool for managing the chaos in our society.

In 2006, the movement “We don’t trust voting computers” in the Netherlands resulted in the withdrawal of all forms of electronic voting.

Defenders of the movement demonstrated through a recording that “experts were able to reproduce a memory chip in the voting machine in less than five minutes, which allowed them to manipulate the results of an election”.

Even though we use non-reprogrammable hardware, we cannot rule out software piracy as it would have occurred in the 2016 US election and several conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 presidential elections.

In 2004, the Irish government decided not to use voting machines in European parliamentary elections. According to Cameron Arcand, a political commentator, “Elections Canada wanted to assure Canadian voters that they should not have the same concerns Americans have about electoral integrity.”

Elections Canada tweeted on November 17, 2020: “Elections Canada does not use Dominion voting systems.

We use paper ballots that are hand-counted in front of tellers and have never used electronic voting machines or tabulators to count votes in our 100-year history ”.

Cameron Arcand added, “The Dominion Electoral System is voting and vote tabulation software that is used in over 30 states.

There have been claims that the software failed during the election, shifting President Donald Trump’s votes to former Vice President Joe Biden’s votes.

However, the Dominion website categorically denies the false claims regarding voting change issues with their voting systems. ”

Convenience, transparency, verifiability and auditing capacity are the requirements of modern electoral systems.

Countries with contemporary democracies strive to meet these requirements, from pre-election preparations to post-election checks and audits.

However, it is evident that the solutions available so far in different countries are developed outside the regulators and remain very sensitive to the problems.

Therefore, if we are to meet these requirements, we need to strengthen the capacity of the ECP to develop both components of EVMs (hardware and software) strictly under the control and supervision of the Commission.

Otherwise, we will be subjected to several complications that could potentially harm the entire political system of the country due to our very busy environment.

Our government can cultivate consensus on EVMs by engaging civil society, the media and independent IT experts.

It is also important to ensure transparency at all stages of EVM development to eliminate the doubts of the masses. We also need to publish the test and certification report of our EVMs for greater credibility.

We also need to develop a credible legal framework to deal with all aspects of EVM operations, including security requirements.

Therefore, it is important to make informed decisions with patience to avoid disaster due to hasty choices.

– The author is associate professor in management sciences, director of the Center for Islamic Finance.

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