Learning from India’s Electronic Voting System


Slate magazine pokes fun at America’s continuing electronic voting anxiety by using India as an example of how to do things right:

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 embedded—or hard-wired—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 expensive—$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.

9 thoughts on “Learning from India’s Electronic Voting System

  1. There was fraud, but it was overt. It involved gundas breaking into polling places and pressing the button repeatedly, or vote buying.

    India’s system is the electronic analogue of a system I was always fond of, the lever system of voting, where you have a big machine and you turn switches to indicate your vote.

    The drawback with India’s electronic balloting system is that it leaves no paper trail for a recount (that I know of).

  2. True about booth capturing, but the machines had a little protection against that. The head of the station can turn off any machine with the flick of a switch, and it cant be turned on again without a senior EC guy’s presence, and it also has a limit of not more than 5 votes a minute, or some thing like that, to make booth capturing less effective

  3. I would really like to see auditable accounting for voting. A way that anyone could count the votes, anyone could see their own vote in the rolls, and one could see evidence of ballot stuffing. The method of entering the vote could then be by paper ballot, machine, phone, internet or email or any combination.

  4. To make voting systems temper proof:

    ID card scanning, finger print scanning, and iris scanning

    Or a system with paper and electronic paper punch to replace the pen. The punched paper can be dropped into a slot on the ballet box and a light source can count the punched hole on the vote paper before it goes into the ballet box. Then the counting will be 100% accurate. Less chance for controller and voter deals.

  5. impoverished nation like India, where cows roam the streets of the capital and most people’s idea of high-tech is a flush toilet

    America’s version of hi-tech is wasting food crops to run vehicles while millions of people die without food. ;(

  6. What was the voting system prior to 1952 elections? Were there separate boxes with the candidates symbol on it and an authentic ballot paper?