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April 20, 2009

Comparison of electronic voting machines: India and elsewhere.

Filed under: election — neosurya @ 07:17

First off, Invisible ink in election ballots: In… USA, Where else??? The Chicago Reader carried an article about an incident during elections in USA, where the election judges thought that voters had been given invisible pens. Apparently, voters are given pens to write on ballots. When some of the pens given to voters did not work, one of the election judges (Equivalent to election officer in India) had said:

“It’s a magic pen that uses invisible ink.”

Of course, the election judge was wrong and had goofed up big time. The full article is here. Much worse happens in our country to disrupt elections. However, the system “electronic voting machine” that was introduced in 1982 (How many of you were born then!!!) is simple, effective, and has drawn much praise. Here are websites comparing electronic voting techniques in India with those in USA: [1], [2]. This site outlines some of the advantages of the Indian EVM, and one of them is a pretty innovative method to nullify ballot stuffing:

Bogus voting can be greatly reduced by the use of EVMs. In case of ballot paper system, a bogus voter can stuff thousands of bogus ballot papers inside the ballot box. But, an EVM is programmed to record only five votes in a minute. This will frustrate the bogus voters.

The Indian EVM now has Braille support. Dieblod systems that are used in the USA have been criticised here. An article in wired speaks about the eVACS (Electronic Voting and Counting System) that the Australian Government uses an electronic voting machine, called The eVACS uses Linux, and at the end of voting day, votes are sent to a central agency by burning a disk, so that nothing is transmitted over the internet.

The Indian EVM was alleged to lose data if kept under a strong magnetic field. However, most engineers worth their salt know that a powerful enough magnetic or electric field can fry any circuit.

Comparison of Indian EVM specifications with Diebold from USA [source]:

Device type
EVM: Embedded with Assembly code
Diebold: Embedded with Windows CE, and C++ code

Visual Output
EVM: Single LED against each candidate’s name
Diebold: Color Touchscreen, with GUI software

Operating System/ Software
EVM: None, the Assembly code to register number of votes is all it has.
Diebold: Windows CE, and C++ code stored on the Internal Memory and PCMCIA cards.

Records/ Audits
EVM: The Voting unit doesn’t store anything, the control unit records the number of votes casted for each candidate against his serial number. No record to link person-to-vote.
Diebold: Internal ribbon printer. And PCMCIA storage for records and audit trials. Additionally the GEMS server also stores the votes and audits.

Accessibility
EVM: Blind people are allowed to bring an escort into the polling booth to help them vote.
Diebold: Optional Audio component to assist the visually impaired. “Magnify” feature to enlarge the text. I guess all Windows CE Accessibility features are available on these systems.

Control
EVM: Control Unit accumulates the votes, it is a device with flash storage and seven segment LED displays. They are connected to voting units with a 5 meter cable, the Unit has a switch to issue a ballot for a voter.
Diebold: Two GEMS servers one primary and a backup, for every polling station, that connects to the voting units to “load the ballots” (!!) and then voting units work independently. They are again connected at the time of results.

Security of Access
EVM: Physical security is ensured by the electoral officers. Unit is sealed during transport.
Diebold: GEMS servers have access through Supervisory Smart cards, and PINs, some users have login and password access.

Ballot Issue
EVM: Ballot is issued by Electoral officer by pressing a button on the Control Unit. It allows the voter to press one button on the voting unit.
Diebold: Voter access smart card is issued in an envelope for a terminal. Voter can put it in the assigned terminal and cast his/her vote.

Storage of Votes
EVM: In Internal Non removable memory of the Control Units. All control units are transported physically to the counting center.
Diebold: In a PCMCIA card hidden in the Voting Unit. Results are “transmitted” using modems to the counting center.

Cost of the System
EVM: About 10500 Rs. (230$) for 1 control Unit + one voting unit.
Diebold: About 3300$.

Power Supply
EVM: 6V alkaline batteries
Diebold: electricity

Capacity
EVM: 3840 Votes (the electoral process distributes one polling station for not more than 1500 voters) so its large enough.
Diebold: Over 35000 votes.

Localization/Languages
EVM: The Voting unit has a Non tear-able printed sticker, which is printed in any of the 18 (yes 18) constitutional languages, spoken in the region. The Election Symbol of the candidate allows people who cannot read that language or cannot read any language at all to vote by pressing the button against the symbol.
Diebold: Supports more than 8 different languages using GEMS software.

Developed by
EVM: State owned Defense Equipment manufacturing units.
Diebold: Private company.

Buyer/ Owner
EVM: Election commission of India buys it and ownes it to conduct elections everywhere in India.
Diebold: Individual states / counties buy the systems, and use it to take part in elections, each state can decide based on its law, which system to adopt.

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