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Tampering With Voting Machines

By Dr. Satinath Choudhary

An Open Letter to the Election Commission, India
21 March 2004

The Election Commission

Dear Sirs,

I am a concerned citizen of India, worried that the
electronic voting machines (EVMs) may simplify
hijacking of the upcoming election. Thanks to the
cooperation of a number of individuals from the
Election Commission, I have become familiar with the
electronic voting system that is planned to be used.
Allow me let you know that I have taught computer
science in the USA for many years. So I am fully aware
of what computer chips, used in the EVMs can do. Some
of my original apprehensions about the machines,
arising out of ignorance of the same have been
eradicated. However, the more serious ones continue to
worry me. Briefly speaking, they are:

1. Supervision of various stages of election by
various individuals.
2. Tampering with the machine before the poll.
3. Tampering with the machine after the poll.

These concerns and solutions are elaborated below:

1. Supervision of various stages of election by
various individuals.

We have three Election Commissioners towards better
transparency and accountability. Why not extend the
same "triad" principle for all decision makers all the
way down to the lowest level of control - Presiding
Officers at various polling booths?

Here one more thing may be noted. Politics in India
has reduced to a power struggle between the Upper
Caste Hindus (UCH - 15%) who hate quota system, and
the rest (85% of the population, called Bahujans by
some groups), including SC, ST, OBC, Muslims, and
Christians, who stand to gain from quota system. So
basically the political struggle is between
pro-reservation and anti-reservation communities. We
know that you are not in a position to enforce fair
distribution (15 - 85) of decision makers between
these two segments of the society. However, in
fairness to the sizes of the above mentioned two
groups, among the trio of decision makers at all
levels you should insure that two of them come from
the Bahujans, while one of the positions may go UCH
community. Such a policy by you may possibly result in
revolutionary changes in the rest of the governing
structures of the society.

2. Tampering with the machine before the poll.
The computer chips that control the control units of
the voting system can easily be programmed to do all
kinds of mischievous things like after a certain
number of people have voted, the rest of the votes may
get added to a chosen candidate. One can imagine other
mischief, but the one sited above is enough to make
the point I am trying to make. The kind of mischief I
have mentioned cannot be detected by casting a few
votes in the beginning of polling and verifying
correct counts for various candidates. It will take
hundreds of votes, involving hundreds of minutes,
which the Presiding Officers and polling agents would
not have at their disposal.

We understand that the manufacturers check the
machines before serial number of various candidates
running from a constituency is known. The machines are
then put under the control of ROs (Returning
Officers), and it stays under the control of ROs for
about two weeks before the poll dates. During those
two weeks if the ROs choose to play mischievous roles,
they have all the opportunities at their disposal,
with the help of suitable technical hands,
notwithstanding the poor constables guarding the

To minimize the opportunity for wicked plays on the
part of some wayward ORs, the following need to done:

The serial number of the candidates on the ballot list
should be random, rather than in alphabetical order,
with the final assignment done by lottery draws not
more than a day or two before polling.

After the serial numbers have been assigned to
candidates, a single individual should never be in
charge of the machines at any time - it should always
be handled or be under supervision of a triad of the
kind discussed above.

3. Tampering with the machine after the poll.
Best way to reduce chances of tampering after the poll
is to eliminate the time interval after the poll
closure and reading the machines for the vote counts
of various candidates. Reading the control units, at
the polling booths themselves, right after poll
closure can easily do this. However, if election is
held in different phases, as presently planned,
reading the control boxes right after poll closures
would declare partial results with the passes of
different phases. From mid-1980s this has been avoided
with the thinking that results of the initial phases
may be affecting the results of the later phases. So
to enable reading of machines right after poll
closures, as is commonly done in the West, we must
hold election all over the country on one and the same
day, else allow for partial disclosures of the result
as different phases are finished. It seems that either
of these two possibilities is far better than holding
poll in different phases and then reading the machines
at the end of all phases.

The only for not holding one & the same day election
appears to be difficulty in arranging for adequate
security on the same day all over the country.
However, single-phase election eliminates the problems
associated with safe transportation of the voting
control modules and their safekeeping, saving us many
security personnel and transportation resources. This
saving of personnel and resources should be considered
while judging single phase voting. It seems that if
RPF, army, navy and the air-force personnel, leaving
aside those in the border and other sensitive areas,
are mobilized, enough security people will be
available for single-phase election. All of the
earlier phases of voting can be moved over to the last
scheduled phase, giving only relief rather than
aggravation to various parties concerned.

If the polling must be staggered, there are advantages
as well disadvantages associated with reading the
control unit counters immediately after the polling is
finished, as mentioned below:

Disadvantages: Results of the earlier phases may
affect the polling of later phases. However, there are
no studies about the amount of effect of the earlier
results. The later phases do get affected by the
earlier phases any way, by the exit polls, false or
real. In the age of Internet and other means of fast
communication, speculation about the results of the
earlier phases can be stopped. We cannot say that the
effect of the real results of earlier polls is worse,
on the later polls, than the effect of speculations
based on exit polls of the earlier phases (tainted or

Advantages: "Fairness" of the election, at the very
least "perception of fairness", will improve with
counting right at closure of the polls. Security
problems involved in transportation of the control
units and their safe keeping in the strong rooms will
be obviated. The advantage of "fairness" in the
election, or at least "perception of improved
fairness", far outweighs the disadvantage of the
earlier phases affecting the later phases of election,
particularly in view of the fact that exit polls
(false and/or real) are available to affect the polls
in the later phases. A perception of "unfairness" in
counting the votes (even if unfounded) can severely
jeopardize the faith of the public in democracy

In light of the above, even if the polls must be
staggered in several phases, counting should be done
immediately after the poll closure, right at the poll
booths, rather than at the end of all phases.

In closing, allow me to say that even if you cannot
comply with the aforesaid caste distribution among
various triads of decision-makers, your any effort on
your part towards compliance of any of the above
mentioned requests will be very much appreciated.

Thanking you very much,

Sincerely yours,

Dr. Satinath Choudhary
President, Better Democracy Forum
115 W 238 Street, Bronx, New York 10463, USA

India contact: Boring Canal Road, S.P. Sinha Path,
Patna-800 001, India