India's e-voting machine not to debut in US

Monday, 26 July 2004, 07:00 Hrs
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NEW DELHI: India's tried and tested electronic voting machine (EVM) will not debut in the US presidential election as many Americans, despite their initial interest, remain doubtful of its infallibility.

Indian EVM manufacturer Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), which had organised "dummy runs" of its machines in the US in an effort to secure a contract for the presidential election, is yet to get a response.

The initial feedback suggested the Americans had reservations about the voting system, which was for the first time used all over India in the April-May general election.

"We are evolving a new product they are more comfortable with," BEL Additional General Manager (Corporate Communications) Amarendra told IANS over telephone from Bangalore.

"But our machines will not feature in the US presidential election in November. We have not heard anything from them (after the dummy run)," Amarendra said.

There has been a growing demand in the US for a fallback system to automated voting machines so that if one goes wrong, there is a backup.

With the presidential election in 2000 exposing irregularities in the use of EVMs, several lobbying groups in the US have demanded a tamper-proof voting system, preferably backed by voter-verified paper ballots (VVPBs).

But officials of India's autonomous Election Commission argue that the indigenously manufactured EVMs were far superior to the touch-screen voting machines manufactured in the US.

"Our EVMs are not software dependent and as such are absolutely tamper-proof, whereas the US-manufactured machines are driven by software and are open to attacks by hackers and programmers or even forces outside the country," an official said speaking on condition of anonymity.

Approximately one million EVMs were used during the Indian parliamentary election, in which about 55 percent of the 650-million strong electorate exercised its franchise by pushing the button on a keyboard.

But American computer scientists have emphasised the need for simultaneous paper balloting that could be audited in the event of a system failure.

Their argument is that EVMs do not allow a voter to ascertain whom he or she had actually voted for.

"There is no way that anyone can tell that a voter voted for candidate A or B," Standford University computer science professor David L. Dill was quoted as saying.

"No matter how you conduct a recount, you're going to get what appears to be a vote for candidate B, even if the voter had voted for candidate A," he said.

He, however, felt that there was nothing inherently wrong with having computers in the election process. "You just have to do it right," he said.

Even as suggestions were aired in the US for having a fallback system, like simultaneous paper-ballot, Indian Election Commission officials said such a system could be a reality in the country by the next parliamentary poll due in 2009.

A commission official said serious thought was being given to adding a printer to the EVMs at least by the next general election.

The proposal has been doing the rounds ever since apprehensions were expressed from several quarters about the reliability of EVMs.

But a BEL official said the fear about EVMs' reliability was born out of experiences in the US. "Our system has been tried and tested and found to be tamper-proof and cost-effective."

Source: IANS
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