As Botswana prepares to buy electronic voting machines from India, it has emerged that the same machines were apparently hacked ahead of an upcoming election in the EVM-exporting country.
“A test of a voting machine in the state appeared to show it printing out votes for the prime minister’s party, regardless of what button was pressed,” reported BBC adding that this occurred during a mandatory test of a Voter-Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machine, which dispenses a slip of paper with the symbol of the party the voter selected. “In the test, the image representing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was printed on every slip.”
With the Botswana parliament having approved the amendment of the Electoral Act to accommodate the use of EVMs, it is almost certain that this technology will be used in the 2019 general election. At this point, there is no certainty because the Botswana Congress Party has thrown a spanner in the works by going to the High Court to challenge the legality of EVM use. At least from BCP’s legal analysis, the amendment was not comprehensive enough because it retained the use of the ballot paper, which is physically marked and deposited in a ballot box. By itself, this point is problematic because even if the court agrees and declares the use of these machines unconstitutional on account of wording, a new bill can be speedily presented. If that happens, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party will ÔÇô as it did the first time, use its parliamentary majority to amend the electoral law.
The Indian incident will complicate the job of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) which, against an astounding amount of evidence to the contrary, has maintained that the machines cannot be manipulated. The former Commission head, Gabriel Seeletso, who has been retained on contractual basis as EVM Coordinator, has been quoted in the press as saying that the machines “are not computer-based.” The reality is that the machines are computer-based and scientists at the University of Michigan have hacked into an Indian-made EVM.