The Indian-made electronic voting machines (EVM), widely claimed as "infallible" and "perfect" has come under a spate of criticism recently on its reliability, but the chief election commissioner of Bhutan, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi, is adamant that it is the best and Bhutan would use it in its elections.
Bhutan has more than 8,000 similar EVMs that were used in the 2008 general elections and will be used in the forthcoming local government elections. "It's the best I've seen and more reliable than the computerised system the so-called developed western democracies use," Dasho Kunzang Wangdi told Kuensel after recent media reports questioning the security of the machine.
The latest media report to question the reliability of the EVM is an article in the US-based Washington Post, which stated that some voters in India complained that buttons stick and lights flash on the wrong candidate when they cast ballots electronically.
Earlier this year, an Indian IT engineer, Hari Prasad, and a professor from the university of Michigan, J Alex Halderman, replaced the display unit of one EVM machine with a cheap look-alike fitted with Bluetooth radio and then used a wireless signal to remotely change the count. They proved that the India's electronic voting system is neither transparent nor secure, and can be tampered with. Hari Prasad landed up in jail for a few days for the stunt on the grounds that he had stolen a machine.
But Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said that it is nothing to worry about. "I'm not concerned because I've seen many EVMs and the Indian EVMs are the best," he said, adding that he had inspected various EVMs at an international conference in Philippines, where international vendors showcased technology during an exhibition at the election technology conference. "We have no reason to be concerned."
According to the Post report, many political parties wrote to the election commission of India, expressing fears about tampering. They also requested new machines that can spew out paper records of the votes cast. The election commission of India recently said it would consider incorporating a small paper printout to boost public confidence.
Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said that the paper printout is a means of further improving the EVM. "Some mishaps are expected, as hundreds of thousands of EVMS are used in the Indian elections. It could be because of storage or transportation," he said. "EVMs are carried on the back of elephants, donkeys and in bullock carts. There could be mishaps."
Explaining the technical details of the EVM, the chief election commissioner said that the EVM, which Bhutan and India use, is not a computerised system. It is, he said, a series of calculators. "The simple technology used in the machines makes them tamperproof. It isn't a touch screen device or computerised where it could be hacked or affected with virus." He said the EVMs are manufactured under strictly protected guidelines.
He also said that after the issue of the machines was petitioned in the Indian Supreme Court last year, the court subjected the machine to several tests and cleared it. "If the elections are successful in India, it is attributed to the use of the EVM. The machine has plugged all the loopholes in the Indian election," said Dasho Kunzang Wangdi.
In an earlier interview with Kuensel, before the general elections, the former election commissioner of India, Navin Chawla, said that EVMs are 100 percent foolproof. He had said that, from the 700,000 EVMs used in the 2004 elections, the failure rate was less than 0.5 percent. "It wasn't so much the machines. The mistake could be because the presiding officer wasn't properly trained or didn't understand how to operate the machines. It's the human errors."
Meanwhile, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said that all the 8,140 EVMs with the commission are working and will be used again. "A lot of precautionary methods are in place. We check it ourselves, program it in front of candidates and media and conduct mock polls," he said. "There is also a standby machine in all the polling stations."