ISSN 2330-717X

How Bangladesh Can Ensure A Free And Fair Election Using Electronic Voting Machines (EVM)? – OpEd

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The use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) is currently an important topic of discussion in the political arena of Bangladesh. Some reputed experts of Bangladesh are opining that it is almost impossible to manipulate EVMs. Therefore, it is not appropriate to have any objection to the taking of votes through this.

The electronic voting machines (EVMs), which will be used in 150 constituencies in the upcoming 2023 national polls as per the Election Commission’s (EC) roadmap, are safe and cannot be tampered with for vote rigging, say some experts allaying fears of manipulating the device. 

On February 1 (2020), a positive change in the conduct of elections in Bangladesh has been initiated through the use of EVMs in the two city corporation elections of Dhaka. The current Election Commission (EC) has announced the decision to use ‘Electronic Voting Machine’ (EVM) in at least one hundred seats in the 11th National Assembly elections held in the last week of December 2018. Then ruling Awami League leaders and representatives of civil society expressed their opinion in favor of the matter. On the other hand, Bangladesh’s some opposition parties’ leaders called the use of EVMs far-reaching. Various debates on the matter have accumulated in the media.

To dispel myths about the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in elections, the Election Commission (EC) will launch a significant campaign as soon as possible. The campaign will be promoted by the commission through radio, television, mosques, and religious institutions.

According to media reports, EVM Project Director Colonel Rakib has been handed responsibility for the TVC (Television Commercial). “In addition to the TVC, we will also use newspapers, Facebook, mosques, and temples to promote the campaign. We’ll run a campaign later on in educational institutions. It is a comprehensive scheme’ he said.

A Tk 87.11 billion project plan has been finalized by the EC to purchase around 200000 EVMs and maintain older ones in advance of the 2018 12th National Parliamentary Election. In the forthcoming parliamentary election, they have chosen to utilize electronic voting machines in no more than 150 seats.

With the 150,000 EVMs it now owns, the commission can organize elections for 70 to 80 constituencies. To conduct elections in more seats, the EC must buy new EVMs. Between November 2023 and January 2024, 300 constituencies will vote in the 12th general election. He continued, “They will work on the matter so that the public gain a thorough understanding of EVM and the voting process, and then they will set up promotion of the subject.”

Especially before the announcement of the schedule in October 2018, whether there is a need to mess with EVMs, or it was said that the EC is not ready or capable of using EVMs on a large scale. Use of EVMs will require amendment in the Representation of the People Order (RPO) etc. However, the Election Commission has already made all their preparations for the city elections and has succeeded in using EVMs. In 2018 itself, an initiative was taken to buy one and 50000 EVMs at a cost of Tk 3,829 crore Bangladeshi Taka.

Although at that time 2,64000 EVMs were needed in 300 seats where 2 lakh 20 thousand polling booths were estimated. However, 132000 thousand EVMs were required for 150 seats. And there were 14 thousand 600 or more polling booths in about 2 thousand 600 centers in Dhaka North and South City. About 35,000 EVMs were used in the two city elections. Two members of the armed forces were deployed at each center to provide technical support and the final mock voting was held on January 28.

Keeping in mind the action plan of the EC announced in July 2017, we want to look positively at the plan to use EVMs in national elections. It should be remembered that during the current government in Bangladesh since 2010 various experiments were started with this EVM by using it in certain centers in various elections. The Election Commission has also used EVMs in the recent Gazipur, Barisal, Rajshahi and Sylhet City Corporation elections. For example, in the Barisal City Corporation elections, voters voted through electronic voting machines in 78 booths in 11 centers of 4 wards.

Before that, voting process was completed through electronic voting machine in 14 centers of City Corporation of Chittagong and 58 centers of City Corporation of Narayanganj. On January 5, 2012, several polling stations of the City Corporation of Comilla were held for the first time through the EVM system. However, on March 30, 2017, the second full election of Comilla City Corporation was held through the use of electronic voting machines or EVMs made with indigenous technology. This was the history of the use of technology in polling.

Notably, the long queues of voters at the EVM centers in the aforementioned elections indicated their lack of interest in voting with the modern technology. Young and middle-aged voters voted more comfortably in EVMs. Voters voted with their own enthusiasm in the EVM. The opinion of the voters is that they have been able to vote safely and easily in a short time by using EVMs. Because the benefits of digital Bangladesh are now visible to everyone like daylight. Thus, the interest of many voters in using EVM in city corporation elections has been known and trained manpower has also been developed for its use. In fact, teaching the concerned officials and voters how to use EVMs and making people mentally ready will increase its popularity.

Electronic voting systems are one of the ways to strengthen the democratic process in the 21st century by allowing voters to reflect their own opinions. Machines or electronic equipment are used to cast votes so the overall process is known as Electronic Voting Machine or ‘EVM’. Its other name is ‘e-voting’. In the electronic process, it is capable of both accurate application of votes and speedy counting of votes. It has also gradually gained acceptance across the world as a transparent and fair area of ​​voting. The EVM system was first observed in 1964 in the elections of 7 states of the United States; Gradually the issue of taking votes through punch cards became popular.

Votes have already been taken in different countries of the world using EVMs. These include India, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Estonia, European Union, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Romania, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Venezuela, Philippines etc. In these countries, EVMs are mainly used in polling stations as polling places. It is also possible to implement e-voting using internet, personal computer network, telephone. Newer optical scan voting systems use punch cards, optical scanners. In this method, a voter marks the ballot paper and votes. On the other hand, in DR EVM (Direct Recording Electronic Voting Machine) voting system, the vote collection and counting process is conducted with the help of a single machine. All voters in Brazil and India use it in all types of elections. DRE voting systems are also widely practiced in Venezuela and the United States.

Despite some opposition’s allegations, there was no scope for rigging in the use of the EVM system. Because it requires the biometrics of the presiding or assistant presiding officer to operate, no one could operate without them. For some reason the machine was broken but the votes received were not lost. The card of the machine only contains the information of the voters of that center so no one else could vote. And no one could delete someone’s vote. Even if someone presses the button multiple times, the first vote remains the same. Again, the smart card for use in the machine is with the officer in charge, so it was of no use even if someone else occupied the booth room.

On the other hand, if the responsible officer presses the close switch from the control unit at the end of the specified time, there is no more opportunity to vote. EVMs are not connected to the internet in any way, hence cannot be hacked, voting can be done at the center where the EVM is used. When the voter comes to vote, he is given the opportunity to vote by verifying with smart card or identity card number or finger printer. After verification with one of these, the voter’s picture is shown on a projector which is also seen by all the candidate’s agents and then he gets access to the secret voting room.

After being identified as a valid voter, the voter appears in a secret room known as a ballot unit. On entering there, he found the ballot paper in the machine and voted by pressing the button next to the symbol. After voting, the symbol of the candidate you voted for appears on the screen. This is the confirmation for the voter as to which mark, he has voted for. When the voter presses the confirm button, a sound is heard to indicate that his vote has been cast. The entire process of EVM is transparent and convenient.

As we can see from the City Corporation Elections- Voters got used to EVMs as Election Officers worked for some time to create demonstration, voting education and public awareness. Each center had at least three technical officers apart from the polling officer. Voting should not be affected by technical errors; Let the voters feel comfortable. In fact, it is the capacity of the EC that has given acceptance to EVMs. There is no substitute for EVM system for fair and orderly election and quick declaration of results. The decision to use EVMs in any upcoming local or national elections must be considered positive and commendable.

Harunur Rasid is a London-based Bangladeshi expatriate who is a Bangladesh and Myanmar affairs observer, analyst, and researcher.

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