The news item is titled “Subramanian Swamy wants ATM-like receipts after casting vote through EVMs.” As Baldrick would have said, “That’s a very cunning plan, my lord.” And as Blackadder would have replied, “It is also bollocks.”
First the cunning plan, though.
Raising doubts over whether the electronic voting machines are tamper-proof, Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy today mooted a new idea saying the election commission should modify the EVMs so that one gets a receipt after casting the vote as in the case of an ATM.
“That the EVMs are tamper-proof is a false claim. However, the machines can be modified on the lines of ATM wherein we will get a receipt after casting the vote which can be put into a sealed box,” he told reporters here.
Looks like a good plan. But here’s the catch. We know that votes are often bought and duly paid for by the
crooks politicians who generally engage in this farce contest the elections. The voter is usually bribed with a bottle of liquor and perhaps Rs 100, and told to vote. The problem is that there is no certain way of ensuring that the voter indeed voted for the party that bribed him. So a lot of the bribes are wasted on people who end up voting for the other parties. With an ATM-like receipt, the voter can now prove that he has indeed kept his promise.
So here’s how it will go. Party pays Rs 100 up front and tells the voter that he will get Rs 400 upon production of proof-of-voting. (Somewhat like the proof-of-purchase you need to send in to get your cash rebate.) Said voter votes, pockets the little receipt, exchanges it with the party for Rs 400. Now that is called efficiency. The party now does not have to get cheated out of the vote that they bought fair and square (for sufficiently elastic definitions of ‘fair and square.’)
“Waitammit,” you may say, “Does not the party have a reason to not keep its promise now that the vote is cast?” Not really. If the party reneges on its promise, word will get around and the party will lose its credibility. There’s honor among thieves but only because of a reputation effect.
You may object and say, “But that ATM-like receipt is supposed to go into a sealed box. So how can the guy keep the receipt to collect his Rs 400?”
The box is sealed. How can anyone tell whether Mr Bribed Voter deposited it or not? He could as well deposit some other scrap of paper. He would have a reason to do so given that without it he stands to lose Rs 400.
The plan is bollocks. Voting machines are machines with software or firmware that can have malicious bits built into them. They can never be certified to be absolutely tamper proof. Or rather the manufacturer cannot credibly prove that the machine cannot be compromised. There is only one way for making it almost tamper proof: by publishing the software that runs the machines. Open source code has that advantage. Bugs and other concealed features are more likely to be detected by third parties.
All this electioneering and voting is a farce anyway in a country like India. Adding electronic voting machines whose source code is not revealed ups the degree of farce one notch. Adding little ATM-like receipts ups the farce even more. When will all this end?
A Cargo Cult Democracy. May 2004:
In the case of India, we have a cargo cult democracy. It looks like one with electronic voting machines and election speeches and manifestos, with pollsters and pundits, with election commissioners and voting stations. Only the deep backend is missing. There is no understanding of issues of substance among the people who vote. Put up a name which is recognizable, and they would vote for or against that name. Promise enough freebies (free electricity, for instance) and they will vote for you, never mind that it may bankrupt the state and that eventually it will impoverish the same voting public. For democracy to work, you need accountability — both among those who vote and those who are elected. In an area where the government is seen as a source for endless handouts by the people, and the leaders look upon their stint in the driving seat as an excellent opportunity to steal from the public, democracy is not likely to work.
On Being Ruled by Toads. Dec 2004:
India is as I have maintained before a cargo-cult democracy. Centuries of being ruled by foreigners creates a culture of servility and powerlessness that is hard to overcome. In a strict sense, Indians deserve to be ruled by toads because they “elect” to be ruled by toads. Being ruled by toads has the ripple effect that finally culminates in an abjectly poor country that is euphemistically referred to as a “developing economy.”