Saturday, April 5, 2014

Electronic Voting Machine doubts

Hi Friends,

Note: This could all of course be just me blowing things out of proportion so take it all with a pinch of salt, eh? This email is going out to multiple networks I'm part of and to my friends and to a blog. I have no powers of my own to communicate this to any higher-ups.. but if you consider this serious enough then pls do so. The information is all open, I do not hold any more details, so I'm just putting this together and leaving it and would seriously like to not be involved if this goes up any chains. Please cut out my name if you're forwarding this.

Knowing from the past decades of politics in the US, leaders who are privy to a lot of top secret information that is being withheld from the public, time and again make Freudian slips or in a moment of jest share something which is derived from that information. One infamous George Bush slip was in a global meeting of leaders when in a moment of humour he told a South American counterpart that the best way to improve the economy was to make war. The 9/11 attacks had recently happened and the war on terror was just beginning at the time, Now, a decade and multiple occupied and devastated countries later as well seeing the US economy's trajectories in relation with its wars, we know of the crony military-industrial complex that profited immensely as a result of America's wars post 9/11 which they influenced to make happen. More recently, government or industry people have been recorded saying at speeches or press conferences that they might need to fake an incident to legitimize a war with Iran.

Why I'm sharing this: I had come across a NaMo quote on a news website a few days ago saying something like:
"This is the first election where the results are known from beforehand."
And there's also similar sentiments coming out about Congress winning irrespective of what all is happening.

It could of course be a harmless co-incidence, but look at this news that came out recently:
GUWAHATI: An electronic voting machine raised many eyebrows across the state during a mandatory mock poll in Jorhat on Tuesday. Every time a button was pressed, the vote went in favour of BJP. 
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The Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) system that India has adopted at such a massive level, is fraught with risks, and we're down to seriously over-depending on the independence and honesty and robustness and sheer brute strength and 24/7/365 vigilance of the Election Commission to prevent them from being compromised.
India is the only country in the world to adopt all-electronic voting machines at an absolute level. This is not because of any technological wizardry of India : it's because it has been rejected by many other countries that have far better infrastructure on the grounds that it is too easy to abuse. (For the same reason, even Aadhaar card like projects are not being taken up by any other country despite many having the technology and infrastructure). A paper trail has been strongly recommended by several independent democracy watchdogs. There are sites and videos on the net galore about EVM fraud having happened and being doable all around the world if the people handling the machine can be compromised. Compound with this the EC's strategy of maintaining secrecy about the inner circuitry and arresting people who dare to investigate : You know a technology is vulnerable when you're depending on a veil of secrecy to protect it.

One website dedicated to ringing the alarm bell regarding this in India: http://indiaevm.org/ . This video featured on the site really breaks it down: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlCOj1dElDY
There is also an oft-ignored but steady suspicion about the Congress's surprise return to power 10 years ago when exit polls were predicting a BJP victory. That was when India went all-EVM. The mainstream media had been agog suddenly about the virtues of the Congress, Sonia Gandhi's "sacrifice" of PM position, Manmohan Singh as the silent obedient spotless perfect administrator and I remember actually believe all of that at the time. Today we know those media houses have not been entirely honest in their coverage 10 years ago, we know they went overboard to paint our leaders as, well, perfect leaders, and we know the extent of scams that have come to pass since then, and we know how the same media houses suppressed or downplayed many of the scams until independent entities and people talking about it made it impossible for them to continue blacking them out.

I would also keep in mind here that TOI is a Congress bastion and that it is possible for Congress to have rigged those machines to trap BJP in controversy. But they are on the same team, IMHO.

Here's my opinions and recommendations:

1. The contention in the article that the EVMs had become faulty due to being left out for too long, is soothing, comforting, but likely to be false. If our phones are robust enough to travel around with us and still work properly, then a much simpler electronics like EVM has to be many times more robust. If the EVMs are really so delicate then that means they have failed their minimum working requirements and cannot be used. Here I was expecting the EVMs to be shock-proof, fall-proof, dust-proof, water-proof.. aakhir humaari puri democracy ka sawaal hai bhai! Those machines are supposed to be taken to the farthest corners, deepest pockets of the country; not to be kept in sanitized air conditioned offices!

2. It seems far-fetched that an accidental malfunction puts all the votes into one option. Malfunctions aren't this intelligent when you leave your machine outside and it gets weathered : a genuine malfunction would be simply if the machine stopped working altogether, or the votes went to random options. I'm not saying it's impossible, but the odds of the EVM naturally malfunctioning such that all votes go to only one specific option, are seriously very, very high.

3. If we drop the malfunction theory, what's left is deliberate sabotage. This would mean there is a serious need for the Election Commission to revamp their arrangements. I'm also getting weary of the EC being the sole line of defense in something where even the reigning government machinery, including the state police force, cannot be trusted.

4. One stop-gap measure that seems realistic is that on voting day, just an hour before the first vote is cast, the machine is checked on the spot, and if there's any case of "malfunction" then the machine is discarded and another proven-working machine is used or we resort to paper ballot. (very slim chances of having working spares around.. if there is sabotage then they'll all be compromised.) I understand how paper ballot is also fraught with risks, but it is to be noted that sabotage in paper ballots can be independently noticed and caught (photos, videos of the act can be taken and instantly go viral) whereas in EVMs we'll never know.

5. If we find a critical vulnerability that cannot be safely and completely cured before elections begin, and if traditional alternatives (paper ballot and all the systems surrounding it) cannot be fully activated at every polling booth in the country (ie, if EC has not kept a Plan B in place), then I would recommend to swallow the bitter pill and completely postpone the national elections.

6. If such a situation as I speculate (wildly!) comes about and yet business as usual is continued and EC proceeds as per plan with no realistic checks done, then I recommend that the candidates who surely know this contest will be rigged, withdraw their candidature, boycott the elections and put out a public appeal to the people to not vote this time. A long term plan of action would be to rejoin the out-of-politics social movements and start working on the more difficult option of people leaving the government behind. Every social movement for change should have a plan B which doesn't depend on trusting prevailing centralized mechanisms : we should never lay all our eggs in one basket.

7. At present I have seen nothing that might question the integrity of the Election Commission of India. To the contrary, they seem to be regularly having issues with governments due to their strict ethics. But I'm just an ordinary guy, I haven't done any real investigation.

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Some defenses I have seen on this topic earlier that I think are just not heavy enough to counter the doubts:

1. Using paper is going to waste so many trees >> Fine, let's have any one big college give all its students a gap year and shut down for an year, that will compensate for the lost trees and probably much more. Jokes apart, you cannot risk destroying a nation's sovereignty and putting into power people who will wipe out entire forests just to save a few trees (and looking at what Moily's been up to, I'm wondering if we haven't done that already?)

2. Election Commission will never let such a thing happen >> They aren't Gods, let's keep that in mind. A tiny little crack in the security shell can do the damage. It's funny how we so easily ascribe God-like qualities to any entity that we infuse with national pride.

3. No one would dare do such a thing, people will revolt instantly >> They won't if the entity coming to power already has co-opted majority of the media and is able to suppress this news from being officially and credibly told to the people. The ones who manage to slip through, or the independent parties that aren't part of the scheme, will be publishing it on their social media / blogs / own chhota websites and the co-opted media will instantly ridicule them and brand them as mad or liars or anti-constitutional or anarchists or conspiracy theorists. We know this is very much happening already in some way or the other.

4. The main rival political party will surely blow the whistle and bring such a matter to light >> Not if the main parties are all on the same team, being funded by the same crony capitalists.

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Disclaimer : This could all of course be just me blowing things out of proportion and not having all the details known, so chill and take it all with a pinch of salt, eh?

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