Opinion

The great EVM debate: Convincing the losers that they lost

It's not about whether recent elections were rigged, as alleged. It is about a transparent mechanism for determining the truth.

Accusations about the tampering of Electronic Voting Machines continue to be in news.

India’s EVMs have been carefully designed to avoid some of the well-known security problems with electronic voting machines in the West. But it is difficult to agree with Former Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi’s assertion that all the Election Commission needs to do is double down and more forcefully insist that the EVMs are secure because that is what they believe.

It is not about what insiders trust to be true about voting technology, but about what has been demonstrated to be true to the public about a particular election. Besides, no EVM, including the Indian ones, can be assumed to be invulnerable to a determined attacker. While India’s EVM design makes it harder to implement large-scale attacks, all EVMs do not have to be rigged. Machines judiciously chosen in constituencies that are more favorable to rigging, with the collusion of local individuals, after the random allocation described by Quraishi, could be sufficient.

Additionally, in a country with a very efficient counterfeit mafia, we cannot expect that printed paper seals will always expose tampering efforts, because they can be replaced with counterfeit ones.

Finally, a computer chip can be smart enough to know when it is being tested. For example, Volkswagen recently pleaded guilty to having software whose purpose was to detect that the car was being tested, so it could behave as expected and emit fewer pollutants. On the other hand, during regular use, it produced greater emissions. So testing machines at random is not enough to know whether they can be trusted to perform as expected during the real election, when they are not being tested. It thus stands to reason that the losing parties would be suspicious of an election outcome that relies solely on the electronic mechanism, which is not transparent to the voter.

When an electorate has reasonable and genuine concerns that an election could have been rigged – whether or not it was – you have a situation that is not conducive to a healthy democracy. We now have losers with concerns that the election was rigged, winners who would rather not know whether it was, and voters without an independent mechanism for determining the truth.

This has happened before: the Congress dismissed reports of security vulnerabilities when it won, and the BJP loudly voiced its concerns. Now, the shoe is on the other foot. In both cases the Indian voter has been left in a state of genuine uncertainty.

Evidence-based elections

Experts in voting system security propose evidence-based elections that are not vulnerable to problems, known or unknown, in the technology. Technology can be tested in order to reduce the likelihood of problems during use. However, the only way to ensure that the technology performed correctly is to examine the evidence to determine if it did.

For EVMs, the evidence would be in the form of a voter-verified paper audit trail or VVPAT, which records each vote on paper and allows the voter to verify the paper record before the vote is cast electronically.

Numerous countries have chosen to use paper in some form to record votes: 70% of the votes in the 2016 US election had a paper record. Neither Britain nor Germany use electronic voting for general elections. France has chosen to hand count its upcoming election; the Netherlands chose to hand count the most recent one.

Beyond paper trails

It is not sufficient to produce a paper record if it is going to be locked up, never to be seen again. The VVPAT should be stored securely, separate from the EVMs, and audited publicly after the election to determine that it is consistent with the declared election outcome. The audit can be very efficient, as it need not count each and every vote. A good audit polls votes at random and determines that the statistical properties of the votes it looks at are consistent with the election outcome.

Going beyond what is required by a Supreme Court order for a paper trail, the Election Commission had promised that all India’s EVMs will produce such a VVPAT for the 2019 general election. This is, however, not enough. The VVPAT should be audited to ensure that the election outcome is correct, and laws and procedures should be put in place for strong and transparent audits.

Quraishi asserts that the issue is not that electronic voting machines have been demonstrated to be insecure, but that the process with paper is more transparent. While security experts might differ with this interpretation of their work demonstrating security problems, everyone does agree that the use of paper greatly enhances transparency. In the execution of an election, transparency is the most important goal. The use of electronics obscures the process to the extent that any attempts to change the outcome would be very hard to detect. Attempts to change the election outcome would be detected in a transparent process, and transparency becomes the strongest part of the security arsenal.

Election audit

Any constituencies with a securely stored VVPAT should be audited for the recent elections. Future elections should ensure a paper trail that is verified by the voter. If EVMs with VVPAT are not available, paper ballots should be used, whether scanned and counted by the scanner, or hand counted. If the votes are hand counted, the counting should be public: observers should be able to view the ballot and note how it was counted. If the votes are scanned with an optical scanner which counts votes, the count should be audited, again in a transparent and public process. The paper trail should be stored securely till it is counted or audited. While there are challenges to securing the paper trail as well, an adversary intending to change election outcome would need to change both records in a consistent manner.

Election officials the world over resist audits because it increases their workload and because they trust the systems they have approved and/or used. One does not have to like the audit process, but one cannot claim free and fair elections without transparency.

Brush your teeth. Eat your bhindi. Audit your elections.

The Election Commission has, time and again, demonstrated itself as independent and up to the task of serving voters and democracy, even when this has required great effort. India’s democratic tradition, and its voters – who turn out in large numbers election after election, showing unmatched enthusiasm for, and faith in, democracy – deserve no less.

Poorvi L Vora is Professor of Computer Science at The George Washington University, Washington DC, USA.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

The pioneering technologies that will govern the future of television

Home entertainment systems are set to get even more immersive.

Immersive experience is the core idea that ties together the next generation of cinematic technologies. Cutting edge technologies are now getting integrated into today’s home entertainment systems and challenging the limits of cinematic immersion previously achievable in a home setting. Here’s what you should know about the next generation of TVs that will grace your home.

OLED Technology – the new visual innovation in TVs

From the humble, grainy pictures of cathode ray tube TVs to the relatively clarity of LED and LCD displays, TVs have come a long way in improving picture quality over the years. The logical next step in this evolution is OLED displays, a technology that some of the best smartphones have adopted. While LED and LCD TVs make use of a backlight to illuminate their pixels, in OLED displays the pixels themselves emit light. To showcase darkest shades in a scene, the relevant OLED pixels simply don’t light up, creating a shade darker than has ever been possible on backlighted display. This pixel-by-pixel control of brightness across the screen produces an incomparable contrast, making each colour and shade stand out clearly. OLED displays show a contrast ratio considerably higher than that of LED and LCD displays. An OLED display would realise its full potential when supplemented with HDR, which is crucial for highlighting rich gradient and more visual details. The OLED-HDR combo is particularly advantageous as video content is increasingly being produced in the HDR format.

Dolby Atmos – the sound system for an immersive experience

A home entertainment system equipped with a great acoustic system can really augment your viewing experience far beyond what you’re used to. An exciting new development in acoustics is the Dolby Atmos technology, which can direct sound in 3D space. With dialogue, music and background score moving all around and even above you, you’ll feel like you’re inside the action! The clarity and depth of Dolby Atmos lends a sense of richness to even the quieter scenes.

The complete package

OLED technology provides an additional aesthetic benefit. As the backlight is done away with completely, the TV gets even more sleek, so you can immerse yourself even more completely in an intense scene.

LG OLED TV 4K is the perfect example of how the marriage of these technologies can catapult your cinematic experience to another level. It brings the latest visual innovations together to the screen – OLED, 4K and Active HDR with Dolby Vision. Be assured of intense highlights, vivid colours and deeper blacks. It also comes with Dolby Atmos and object-based sound for a smoother 360° surround sound experience.

The LG OLED TV’s smart webOS lets you fully personalise your TV by letting you save your most watched channels and content apps. Missed a detail? Use the Magic Zoom feature to zoom in on the tiniest details of your favourite programs. You can now watch TV shows and movies shot in 4K resolution (Narcos, Mad Max: Fury Road, House of cards and more!) as they were meant to be watched, in all their detailed, heart-thumping glory. And as 4K resolution and Dolby Atmos increasingly become the preferred standard in filmmaking, TVs like LG OLED TV that support these technologies are becoming the future cinephiles can look forward to. Watch the video below for a glimpse of the grandeur of LG OLED TV.

Play

To know more about what makes LG OLED TV the “King Of TV”, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of LG and not by the Scroll editorial team.