India plans paper trail for electronic voting machines

Indian researchers and politicians are concerned that electronic voting machines (EVM) can be tampered with

India's Election Commission is considering introducing paper trails to its electronic voting machines (EVMs), following criticism that the machines could be tampered with.

The paper trail will provide a printed record of the vote in addition to the electronic record stored in the EVMs.

A technical expert committee on EVMs met on Friday with representatives of the two government-run companies that make the EVMs, to discuss the issues related to the introduction of a paper trail for the voting machines, the Election Commission said.

The commission has asked Bharat Electronics and Electronics Corporation of India to provide it with a details of their plans.

EVMs have come in for criticism from opposition politicians in India as well as social activists and researchers, who have been demanding that the EVMs should provide a verifiable paper trail during elections.

India first tested EVMs in a by-election in 1982. The machines were first deployed on a large scale of over 1 million EVMs in a general election in 2004.

By providing a verifiable paper trail, the requirement of transparency in the EVMs will have been met, said Hari Prasad, a security researcher, on Tuesday.

Hari Prasad and other researchers released a video last year that they said demonstrated vulnerabilities in the EVMs. The researchers hacked an EVM that had already been used in an election, to show that voting records could be manipulated.

A hack of the EVM control unit by Prasad and his team involved replacing the display board of the machine with a look-alike component that could be instructed through a Bluetooth connection on a mobile phone to steal a percentage of the votes in favor of a chosen candidate.

Another attack used a pocket-sized device that could be attached to the memory of the EVM to change the votes stored in the EVM, during the period between the election and the public counting session, the researchers said.

The EVMs are vulnerable to tampering at a number of stages, including the moment the software that runs them is burned onto their chips, while the machines are stored before an election, and during the period between the voting and the counting of the votes, the researchers said.

By having a paper tail, the voter will be able to ensure that his vote is recorded correctly, Prasad said. In the event of a suspicion of tampering, the candidate can ask for a recount on the basis of the paper record of the voting, he added.

Prasad was arrested last year by the Mumbai police for the alleged theft of the EVM, and is now out on bail. Prasad said he had received the EVM for investigation from an unknown source.

The Election Commission is however consulting informally with Prasad and other researchers as it tries to offer a verifiable paper trail for its EVMs, Prasad said. The researchers is now demanding that the Election Commission publish on its web site information on the EVMs it uses, including the procurement of chips used in their manufacture, details of their manufacture and their later deployment at various locations in the country, he said.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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Tags e-votingregulationsecurityElectronics Corporation of Indiagovernmentdata protectionBharat Electronics

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John Ribeiro

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