Barking up the wrong tree

Source– The post is based on the article “Barking up the wrong tree” published in The Hindu on 11th January 2023.

Syllabus: GS2- Salient feature of Representation of People Act

Relevance– Issues related to electoral reforms

News– The article explains the issue of remote voting by migrants.

Recently, the EC proposed using isolated remote voting machines to enable voters who are residents elsewhere to vote in their home constituencies.

What are issues with the proposed remote voting machines?

First, it will have to ensure that all applicants for remote voting are able to do so without hindrance, and all applications are processed fairly without selective exclusions. It is necessary to define under what conditions will remote voting be denied.

It is not sufficient just to define a protocol. There is a need to ensure that all applications and the decisions on them are publicly verifiable, from both remote and home locations. This can only be done with verifiable zero-trust technology that is linked to digitisation of the electoral rolls. It requires a thorough examination.

Second, it needs to ensure that a person allowed to vote remotely is invalidated for local voting. The two lists will be at different locations. So, the correctness will not be easy to demonstrate in a publicly verifiable way.

Third, there is a need to decide the place for consolidation and counting of both the electronic votes and the VVPAT slips. It needs to decide whether counting happens at the remote location, or at the home constituency after consolidation. In the former case, disclosing the remote voting results will compromise vote secrecy.

Fourth, there are questions regarding polling agents at remote locations.

These problems require considerably more due diligence. They will also require a significant shift of emphasis from designing electronics to ensuring verifiability.

What are issues with current use of EVM by the Election Commission?

The Election Commission’s emphasis on unverifiable voting machines has been a long-standing problem.

Software-independence is a necessary condition for verifiability. A standalone EVM, whichever way its components are internally connected, cannot be software-independent.

The German Constitutional Court ruled against EVM use in 2009.

U.S. National Academy of Sciences recommended against pure electronic voting in a public report in 2018.

One method to ensure software-independence is to audit the electronic results with a count of the VVPATs. The procedure for doing this is called risk limiting audit. Unfortunately, it appears that election results are declared in India without any VVPAT audits.

Even the Supreme Court’s direction of auditing five randomly selected EVMs in every Assembly constituency against VVPAT counts appears to be without any sound statistical basis.


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