'The new machines are user friendly and more secure against attempts of hacking and vote rigging'
The Bangladesh Election Commission (EC) has decided to use the technologically advanced Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) system during polls for the next decade.
The EVM features a state of the art security system and many other benefits over the more traditional systems.
The commission also claims that the system is password protected and impossible to hack. Even if a machine malfunctions or gets stolen, voting will continue using a backup system.
Election Commission officials told the correspondent that the system is called Digital Voting Machine (DVM), and costs around Tk100,000 per unit.
A version of this EVM technology was filed tested during the Rangpur City Corporation Election last year. The commission claims that majority of the voters there have expressed satisfaction over the use of EVM.
Giving his reaction after the vote, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) KM Nurul Huda said: “The EVM was used in one polling centre, and the voters enthusiastically accepted the new system. No errors or malfunction were reported.”
After the apparent success of this technology in Rangpur, the commission began procuring new EVMs. Bangladesh Machine Tools Factory Ltd, a state owned company, upgraded a new batch EVMs and supplied a few units to the commission.
The Election Commission expressed satisfaction after testing those EVMs and had sent a letter to Machine Tools Ltd in April for procuring around 2,500 more units.
Features of the new EVM
Complete access control: All EVM units are password protected, and will not register votes before the scheduled voting session. This feature will make attempts to rig votes difficult, which is comparatively easy with traditional ballot boxes.
Secure password protection: The passwords for making EVM units operational will be distributed to officials concerned through the SMS service of their mobile phones before the voting. The EVM units will be protected from use by any unauthorized person. If a designated official fails to show up, the password will be sent to another official.
Protection against vote rigging: Finger prints will be used to identify voters. A person will be able to cast ballot once his fingerprints matches the one in the database. Even if an EVM unit is hijacked, vote rigging will be impossible.
Advanced voter identification: Once a person submits his or her fingerprint, the unit will display information about that person on multiple screens. This feature will aid the polling agents in identifying the voter.
Dual storage of data: Information about ballots cast in an EVM unit will store the data in an internal data centre and back it up in an external memory card. If one unit malfunctions or gets damaged, the memory card can be inserted to another machine for continued operation.
Zero-risk network environment: The EVM units will not be connected to the internet, but to the Election Commission’s closed Nationwide Private Network (NPN). It will significantly lower the possibility of the EVM units getting hacked.
The units will also have convenient features such as automatic printing, announcement and distribution of election results. The previously used voter identification unit and the voting unit have been merged into a single machine, which is the upgraded EVM.
Some other necessary features are- removing the “Ballot unit cancel button,” enlarging and colour coding the voting buttons, a second layer of confirmation for casting ballots and showing “Thank You” after voting is complete.
According to a number of Election Commission officials, the previous version of the EVM had six major issues.
These issues were- lack of a system for cross-checking and documenting voter ID cards, fingerprints and casting of the ballots, delay in publishing results due to technical glitch in the control unit, the low battery backup of the EVM units.
Addressing the matter, Director General of the commission’s National Identity Registration Wing Brig Gen Mohammad Saidul Islam said: “We encountered the aforementioned issues, and decided to procure an upgraded version of the EVM units.
When asked about the Tk100,000 price tag of each EVM unit, Saidul pointed out: “The EVM units commission procured a decade ago cost more than Tk40,000. But those machines had a number of serious issues.
“Our new EVMs use the latest available technology, and it can be used for another ten years. The warranty also covers its projected operational period.”
He also added that along with domestic use, the new EVM units can also be exported to other countries.
The previous Shamsul Huda-led Election Commission bought EVMs in three phases under agreements signed between April 2010 and July 2011, at a total cost of over Tk4.5 crore.
In the first phase, 130 EVMs were bought at a price of Tk10,000 each, while 400 EVMs were bought at Tk29,350 each in the second phase, and 700 EVMs were bought at Tk46,501 each in the third phase.
The EVMs were bought under agreements with Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) in the first two phases, while BMFT was responsible for the third phase.
These units saw limited use in a number of local elections since their inception. In 2013, a major issue was found in the EVM units used during the Rajshahi City Corporation Election.
Facing a hail of criticism, Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad-led commission stopped using the EVM units during its tenure.
The incumbent commission led by KM Nurul Huda, also decided against using this technology, but later changed its stance after the government expressed interest.
The Election Commission then took the necessary steps to procure an upgraded version of the EVM units.
Despite fierce opposition from the BNP, the commission had announced that it will gradually increase the use of the EVM technology in upcoming local government polls.