Nikki Haley Says No To EVMs, Yes To Paper Ballots

Mala Jay

Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, has developed an image for talking tough.  During a meeting with government officials of the Democratic Republic of Congo recently, she was as blunt as she could be.  

The subject was elections in what many regard as the poorest country in the world. Many members of the UN Security Council were annoyed with President Joseph Kabila for clinging on to power much beyond his term and trying to avoid holding free and fair elections on one pretext or another. 

As international pressure kept mounting, Kabila has finally promised to hold elections in December this year.  But he had one condition - voters would have to cast their votes on electronic voting machines. 

This is when Nikki Haley put her foot down. Here are four quotes from what she said:
1.     Electronic ballots can be too easily hacked and manipulated.
2.     Asking voters to use an unfamiliar technology during a crucial election is an enormous risk.
3.     The United States has no appetite to accept an electronic voting system.
4.     These elections must be held by paper ballots.

Representatives of several other countries on the 15-member Security Council endorsed the views of the US ambassador. They stated on record that they too had grave concerns about the reliability of electronic voting machines.

The strong line taken by the 46-year-old Nikki Haley, whose father Ajit Singh Randhawa is an Amritsari Sikh who migrated to Canada and US in the Sixties and still proudly wears a turban, was greeted with celebrations on the streets of Kinshasa, the capital of the central African nation with a land area almost equal to the whole of Western Europe.

The no-nonsense US ambassador also made it a point to stress that the poorer sections of the population of DR Congo (former known as Zaire) lacked the education and skills to use electronic devices and government officials at voting stations could take advantage and rig the elections. 

Others who spoke at the meeting pointed out that even in developed countries EVMs are considered vulnerable to technological tweaking and malfunctioning.  Use of electronic voting they felt would not be advisable and for the results to be reliable the use of paper ballots would be best. 

What gives more weight to this skepticism about reliability of EVMs is the current controversy thyat is raging in the United States even 16 months after the 2016 presidential election.  The Democratic Party which lost to the Republican candidate Donald Trump has been shrilly and vociferously alleging that Russia had hacked into the voting systems of many of the 39 U.S. states.

Also, being mentioned is the fact that Germany, a mature democracy and a highly advanced technological power, had switched back to paper ballots a decade ago in order to protect the sanctity of the election process and to ensure that computer vulnerabilities did not distort the results of democratic elections.

The United States and other Security Council members are therefore sternly warning the Democratic Republic of Congo not to use an electronic voting system because, they assert, it has the potential to undermine the credibility of the poll.

For the record, the long-delayed election to replace President Joseph Kabila, who has been in power since his father was shot dead in office in 2001, is now scheduled to be held in late December. Congo’s Electoral Commission is said to have completed the process of registering 46 million voters. 

The repeated stalling and postponement of the election has raised tensions across the country, triggering public riots and even sporadic armed rebellions, especially since Kabila refused to step down when his mandate expired at the end of 2016.

Interestingly, the head of the Electoral Commission of Congo had made an effort to all EVM voting on the ground that using voting machines would “reduce the weight of all the equipment deployed from 16,000 tons to less than 8,000 tons.”

However, the Africa director for the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, brusquely brushed aside this as a lame excuse.  He said: “These machines are unreliable.  They develop glitches all too often.  Roughly 106,000 EVMs machines cannot be expected to work flawlessly across 90,000 polling stations – especially since everyone knows that securing these machines and the data they record from cyber-attacks is virtually impossible in these days when even central banks and government websites are being hacked so frequently”.

Is there a lesson in all this for India?  When EVMs arouse such mistrust and suspicion even from advanced countries like the United States,  is it advisable to rely on electronic voting merely in the blind belief in what the Election Commission of India is saying – that EVMs are tamper-proof.  Is it not safer to agree to the demand of Opposition parties to go back to paper ballots for the 2019 parliamentary elections?

Apr 09, 2017

Mala Jay [email protected]

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