Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Namibia: Indians defend electronic voting machines

Technical experts from Bharat Electronics Limited, the manufacturer of the controversial electronic voting machines used in Namibia's most recent election, have defended their product, saying it is tamper-proof.
The two Indian experts, who were in the country from Bangalore, Krishna Kumar and Sreenivasa Rao, said any delay in election results, was not because of the machines.

“Any election is a long process.Whatever delay there is, has nothing to do with the EVMs,” Kumar said, during an interview with The Namibian at the ECN headquarters on Monday.

Opposition parties, including the Workers Revolutionary Party, the Namibian Economic Freedom Fighters and Nudo, blamed the election mishaps on the EVMs, including the

delay in the announcement of the Presidential and National Assembly results, which they claimed were being “cooked and manipulated behind closed doors” using the machines.

“They are cooking and stirring a pot inside there. EVMs were pre-programmed to give a pre-determined election result in favour of the ruling party (Swapo),” human-rights activist and labour consultant August Maletzky said as he commented on the delay in announcing the results on Monday.

But the Indians insist the machines cannot be pre-programmed.

“The electronic voting machine is a stand-alone equipment which cannot be connected to an electronic device such as Bluetooth and cannot be manipulated. Once programmed, it cannot be altered,” explains Rao, who is the senior assistant engineer at Bharat.

He says the device has been programmed only once during its manufacturing and therefore cannot be re-programmed as some people allege. The experts say back in India, the EVMs have also stirred up debate and received a lot of criticism from opposition parties since they were introduced in the country's elections in 2000, but said all those disputes have come to naught.

“Opposition parties, even in India critisised the EVMs because they do not want to accept defeat. Whenever there is a delay in announcing the results of the elections, people blame it on the EVMs,” said Kumar, who is Bharat's additional general manager. He said even court challenges over EVMs in India have failed.

“There were a number of court challenges over the credibility of the EVMs, both in the Indian High Court and the Indian Supreme Court. All those cases were thrown out because no evidence of manipulation of the EVMs could be found; there have been no new cases reported in the past few years,” said Kumar.

Both Kumar and Rao said Namibian opposition parties' negative attitude towards the EVMs was not a new phenomenon for them. They have survived resistance from opposition parties in India over the same issue. Kumar said the Elections Commission of India has a technical experts committee that has looked into its operations and said India has been using the devices for years without any reported rigging or manipulation incidences.

Kumar also said when the company signed a contract with the Electoral Commission of Namibia in 2008, the much-debated verification paper trail that has stirred heated debate over the past months was not part of the agreement. “They had not requested the EVMs with a paper trail because by then, we did not have the paper trails even in India,” he said.

Kumar said the ECN only requested for the paper trail last year and asked if they could have it installed within six months. “We informed them that it was not possible because we are still in the process of manufacturing machines with a paper trail,” he said.

Kumar said the company has been in the process of manufacturing devices with paper trails from 2011, but says this was still ongoing since it was a chain of verification and evaluation process.

“Until the Election Commission of India approves the new model of EVMs with a paper trail, we cannot manufacture them on a large scale or distribute them to customers outside of India,” he explained. Kumar also denied that the long wait voters had to endure at the polls last Friday was due to the fact that the machines were not as fast as expected.

“The normal voting time using the EVMs should be between twelve seconds to a minute. EVMs cannot delay the voting process,” he said. Kumar, however, pointed out that the EVMs will not operate to their full capacity if they are not set up properly or if those operating them are not properly trained on their use.

“The use of EVMs in Namibia has been a success. The only problems reported was with the voter verification devices, which have nothing to do with us,” he said.

He says the models of the EVMs are specially tailor-made for each country, depending on the request. “The EVMs in India differ from the ones used in Namibia, which have been designed as requested by ECN,” he said.

Asked if there were any other countries using the EVMs, Kumar said they are currently having talks with countries such as Kenya and Ghana on possible contracts to use the technology in their elections. “Acceptance of the EVMs is a process. Right now Kenya is observing how Namibia's election with the EVMs will turn out before they can make a decision,” said Kumar.

The Namibian

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