Indian EVM compared with Diebold
I am writing this while the results are coming out for the Indian Assembly
Election of 2004. 8 news channels are showing results updating like stock
prices on the screen. Yes a 3 second update. The counting is although very
simple and fast because Electronic voting machines were used. But counting from
1.5 Million voting machines is expected to take almost 3 to 4 hours, since, the
Electoral Process needs to be followed in all its bureaucratic steps. The
numbers tell that the ruling party (BJP) is trailing against its main
opposition (INC established by Gandhi). Nobody has doubts about the fairness of
the elections. Re-voting is announced in few stations, due to various reasons.
But over all the biggest democracy in the world has lived up to its
expectations. The ruling party, over-confident of its good economic track
record, declared the elections 8 months ahead of schedule, riding on the
general �feel-good� factor going on in the country these days. But now it
seems, the voters are not that gullible, the opposition INC has got 216 seats
out of 539 and will be invited to prove the majority and form a government.
Indian democracy is of the Parliamentary type, not the Jeffersonian Model
(Presidential type) practiced in America. In the Indian Equation, if a party
gets 272 seats out of 539, they can form a government. and guess what, we may
see an Italian born woman as Prime minister of India! If this is not democratic
then what is?
Last few months have brought very serious discussions on the Net regarding the
use of Electronic Voting, and the security of it. In the USA, the saga related
to Diebold and its opposition is well known. I do not know the electoral
process in the United States, but I attempt here to compare the Technology used
by the Indian Election commission and the Diebold AccuVote system. I present
here the Information I have about the Indian system, and the information about
Diebold got from the web.
Reading this article, some of you might remember that Cold war era joke, about
NASA and its multi million dollar experiment with a pen that can write in micro
gravity to solve the writing problems of astronauts, and the Russian solution
of using a Pencil to solve the same problem. IMHO, the Diebold system is too
complex for a simple and straight forward task such as voting. Windows CE,
Modems, PCMCIA storage cards, Touch screen GUI, On-screen writing facility,
Voice-guidance system, multiple language UI, DES Encryption, centralized voting
Server, a step-by-step wizard to cast a vote, Microsoft SQL Server to store
votes, Backup servers etc. are all unnecessary. All geeks know that a smaller
and simple system is more secure, more code means more cost, more chances for
bugs, more threats to security. You cannot make a system that is �guaranteed�
as secure. A lot depends on the electoral process and the integrity of election
The Indian Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) are designed and developed by two
Government Owned Defense Equipment Manufacturing Units, Bharat Electronics
Limited (BEL) and Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL). Both systems
are identical, and are developed to the specifications of Election Commission
The System is a set of two devices running on 6V batteries. One device, the
Voting Unit is used by the Voter, and another device called the Control Unit is
operated by the Electoral Officer. Both units are connected by a 5 meter cable.
The Voting unit has a Blue Button for every candidate, the unit can hold 16
candidates, but up to 4 units can be chained, to accommodate 64 candidates. The
Control Units has Three buttons on the surface, namely, one button to release a
single vote, one button to see the total umber of vote casted till now, and one
button to close the election process. The result button is hidden and sealed,
It cannot be pressed unless the Close button is already pressed.
The voting unit has a list of candidate's names and their Party Symbols pasted
on the surface, and a Blue button to cast a vote faces ever candidate's name.
The Party Symbols (like a Lotus, an elephant, a horse etc.) are approved by the
election commission to be unique, All political parties use these symbols while
campaigning, and illiterate people can identify their candidates by looking at
his symbol, and pressing the blue button in front of his symbol.
Here is how the voting process goes,
The Voter is Identified, by his Government Issued Voter Identity Card, or his
Public Distribution System's Ration Card, when he enters the polling station.
Voter's finger is marked with a special ink, in such a way that the ink spreads
from finger skin to nail in a small dot. One cannot remove this Ink without
hurting himself. The Ink washes away in two week's time.
The Electoral Officer then Presses a button on his Control Unit, that releases a
single ballot, for the voter to use, this of course is electronic so it just
enables the Voting unit to register one Vote.
Now Voter enters the voting Booth, and preses a Button in front of name and
Election Symbol of the Candidate. This action blinks an LED in front of the
candidate's name and sounds a loud and long Beep, that declares that the vote
Notes: The System accepts only 5 votes in a minute. The Indian Election process
is distributed in such a way that there are never more than 1500 voters for a
single polling booth. So, even if armed men capture the polling station, they
cannot cast 1500 bogus votes in less than 5 hours, and Indian police is not as
slow as the bollywood movies project them to be. No voter has to travel more
than 2 Kilometers to cast his vote. Its fairly easy for an election officer or
opposition political agents to identify people who attempt to appear twice with
different identity. (The Ink on the finger is the main reason).
And here is how the results are obtained from the machines.
After the voting is over, electoral officer presses the Close switch on the
Control Unit, after which no votes are registered by the unit. The total number
of the Votes registered are noted by all stake holders (political party agents)
and then the control units are put into its own special carrying case, and
sealed for transport.
Control Units from all Polling stations are transported to the nearest District
On the day of counting the seals of the Control Units are opened. The control
unit has a Results Button which is physically secured by a protective seal,
this button is pressed to obtain the results. The Machine gives the Serial
number of the Candidate, and the votes that he has won.
The Election commission takes a decision to ask for a re-election if the
machines are found to be tempered with. Or if the count of signatures or thumb
impressions (yes, India's illiterate also take part in the democracy) on the
voter register do not tally with the number of votes registered by the Voting
Machine. In this election, about a 100 polling booths, (I think) were asked to
conduct the election again. This number is small, for the size of Indian
In case of disputes, the machines are preserved for the courts to decide upon,
other machines are used for next election after reseting the memory.
Diebold system works on Microsoft software, it has no seals on locks and panels
to detect a tempering. It has a keyboard interface (!!!) and the server was
tested to have �Blaster� virus. One report on Wired says a lady stumbled upon
some files from Diebold, and found that the votes were stored in MS Access
files. It also has a PCMCIA SanDisk card for local storage. A touchscreen GUI
and a network connection to send the results to a server after encrypting it
The Indian EVM is just plain circuit, with some assembly code. A few LEDs, and
two Seven Segment LED displays. One EVM can list 16 candidates, but up to 4
EVMs can be Linked to accommodate 64 candidates. (In a country of a billion
people its possible to have 64 candidates for one single constituency.)
Diebold has received its share of criticism from Techies and Paranoids. Techies
are Concerned about the vulnerability of the system. Some concerns are right,
like having a network to communicate votes to a central server, exposes the
system to unimaginable risk. I mean, we all know how safe is a windows box on a
network ;-). But, some criticism is just not right, like the keyboard
interface, and card reader jamming etc. No, electoral officer in his sane mind
would allow a voter to walk into a booth with a keyboard in hand, and would not
let him be inside the booth long enough to duplicate a smart card or to open
the voting machine to do some EPROM Programming, or to run a forceful algorithm
to break DES.
India's leading daily newspaper, carried an article on the eve of the elections,
saying that the microchip containing the code of the EVM machines can be copied
in minutes. The article was titled, �Winning Elections Made Easy�. The article
was written by an Indian Professor living and teaching in America. But I don't
think it is possible, as long as the Electoral system and Election officials
function to their expectations. Usually Indian elections take place during
school Vacations, and Teachers are recruited by the Indian Election Commission
to perform duty as election officers.
I guess, The differences in both technologies are as follows.
EVM: Embedded with Assembly code
Diebold: Embedded with Windows CE, and C++ code
EVM: Single LED against each candidate's name
Diebold: Color Touchscreen, with GUI software
Operating System/ Software
EVM: None, the Assembly code to register number of votes is all it has.
Diebold: Windows CE, and C++ code stored on the Internal Memory and
EVM: The Voting unit doesn't store anything, the control unit records
the number of votes casted for each candidate against his serial number. No
record to link person-to-vote.
Diebold: Internal ribbon printer. And PCMCIA storage for records and
audit trials. Additionally the GEMS server also stores the votes and audits.
EVM: Blind people are allowed to bring an escort into the polling booth
to help them vote.
Diebold: Optional Audio component to assist the visually impaired.
�Magnify� feature to enlarge the text. I guess all Windows CE Accessibility
features are available on these systems.
EVM: Control Unit accumulates the votes, it is a device with flash
storage and seven segment LED displays. They are connected to voting units with
a 5 meter cable, the Unit has a switch to issue a ballot for a voter.
Diebold: Two GEMS servers one primary and a backup, for every polling
station, that connects to the voting units to �load the ballots� (!!) and then
voting units work independently. They are again connected at the time of
Security of Access
EVM: Physical security is ensured by the electoral officers. Unit is
sealed during transport.
Diebold: GEMS servers have access through Supervisory Smart cards, and
PINs, some users have login and password access.
EVM: Ballot is issued by Electoral officer by pressing a button on the
Control Unit. It allows the voter to press one button on the voting unit.
Diebold: Voter access smart card is issued in an envelope for a
terminal. Voter can put it in the assigned terminal and cast his/her vote.
Storage of Votes
EVM: In Internal Non removable memory of the Control Units. All control
units are transported physically to the counting center.
Diebold: In a PCMCIA card hidden in the Voting Unit. Results are
�transmitted� using modems to the counting center.
Cost of the System
EVM: About 10500 Rs. (230$) for 1 control Unit + one voting unit.
Diebold: About 3300$.
EVM: 6V alkaline batteries
EVM: 3840 Votes (the electoral process distributes one polling station
for not more than 1500 voters) so its large enough.
Diebold: Over 35000 votes.
EVM: The Voting unit has a Non tear-able printed sticker, which is
printed in any of the 18 (yes 18) constitutional languages, spoken in the
region. The Election Symbol of the candidate allows people who cannot read that
language or cannot read any language at all to vote by pressing the button
against the symbol.
Diebold: Supports more than 8 different languages using GEMS software.
EVM: State owned Defense Equipment manufacturing units.
Diebold: Private company.
EVM: Election commission of India buys it and ownes it to conduct
elections everywhere in India.
Diebold: Individual states / counties buy the systems, and use it to
take part in elections, each state can decide based on its law, which system to