April 19, 2004
Producing doctored EVMs is child’s play: Computer chips that control the EVMs can be easily programmed to do all kinds of improper manipulations. For example, after a certain number of people (perhaps hundreds) have voted, the rest of the votes may be channeled to a chosen candidate. This is just one among many mischievous tricks possible.
This kind of wrongdoing cannot be detected by the polling agents of candidates. It will take hundreds of votes, for which the presiding officers or polling officers are not likely to have the time or patience to monitor. Control-units keep track of votes by recognising them only by their serial number on the list of candidates on the poll-units on which people vote. So any tampering of the control-unit chip has to be done only after the serial number of various candidates in the list of candidates appearing on poll-units have been assigned.
Normally returning officers declare the serial number assignments after the last day of withdrawal of nominations, which happens about two weeks before polling. ROM chips with mischievous codes can be readied within hours after the candidates’ serial numbers are known. During the two weeks before polling, the malicious ROM chips, or the motherboard, or possibly the whole control-unit, whatever appears easier, may be caused to replace the original ones. Would it be wise to assume that officials in charge of the EVMs, and/or those guarding the machines, are incorruptible? I would leave it as question for readers to ponder over. Luckily, this kind of possibility of a fraud before voting can be easily remedied. Instead of declaring the serial number of candidates two weeks in advance of polling, the serial numbers may be decided at each polling booth by random draws by the presiding officers in the presence of the polling agents of various parties just an hour or so before the poll opening. Thereafter their names may be affixed on the poll-units in appropriate order in the presence of the poll-agents. All that will need to be done by the POs is, paste them on the poll-units in proper order by the time the poll opens. This entails different serial orders for candidates in different booths.But that only improves fairness towards the candidates, distributing the chance to be at the top or bottom of the list more evenly.
Increasing the sense of responsibility of the presiding and polling officers at polling booths, could also be considered, by officially declaring all of them to have equal powers, with instructions to try to make decisions with unanimous consent, as far as possible.
The writer is president, Better Democracy Forum, The Bronx, New York. He is a retired professor of computer science
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