While we in the United States agonize over touch screens and paper trails, India managed to quietly hold an all-electronic vote. In May, 380 million Indians cast their votes on more than 1 million machines. It was the world’s largest experiment in electronic voting to date and, while far from perfect, is widely considered a success. How can an impoverished nation like India, where cows roam the streets of the capital and most people’s idea of high-tech is a flush toilet, succeed where we have not?
Apparently India uses an incredibly simple technology that may not be as fancy as the machines here, but does the job well.
The result is a machine that looks like a cross between a computer keyboard and a Casio music synthesizer. In fact, it’s not much of a computer at all, more like a souped-up adding machine. A column of buttons runs down one side. Next to each button is the name and symbol of a candidate or party. These are written on slips of paper that can be rearranged. That means unscrupulous politicians couldn’t rig the machines at the factory, since they wouldn’t know which button would be assigned to which candidate. Also, the software is embeddedÂ—or hard-wiredÂ—onto a microprocessor that cannot be reprogrammed. If someone tries to pry open the machine, it automatically shuts down. After much testing, India adopted the machines for nationwide use this year.
Why do our machines suck?
American machines, by contrast, may be vulnerable to wholesale fraud. Our machines are far more complicated and expensiveÂ—$3,000 versus $200 for an Indian machine. The U.S. voting machines are loaded with Windows operating systems, encryption, touch screens, backup servers, voice-guidance systems, modems, PCMCIA storage cards, etc. They have millions of lines of code; the Indian machines hardly any at all.
Ahhh. All the mayhem can be traced back to Bill Gates.