Thursday, October 28, 2021

Nefarious EVM use will also yield intelligence benefit

For decades the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has had no way of knowing if all people who claim to be its members and benefit from its quite generous political patronage do actually vote for the party during elections.

That could change. Ahead of the 2019 general election, the government plans to controversially acquire electronic voting machines (EVMs) from India. A voting pattern that has emerged over the past couple of electoral cycles shows that support for the BDP has been steadily declining. Voter constituencies that determine who wins an election have also changed.

Whereas the elderly, a majority of whom were staunch BDP supporters, have always decided which party wins, the tables have turned. Youth voters made up 47 percent of the electorate in the last election and that figure will go up in 2019. The BDP is having trouble wooing the youth and it has been alleged that EVMs are meant to guard against a situation where the party loses in 2019.

Researchers in the United States have found that an EVM’s design mistakes make attacks possible. Upon implementing one attack sequence, they discovered that an attacker who gets physical access to the machine – or its removable memory card for as little as one minute, could install malicious code. Such code could steal votes undetectably, modifying all records, logs and counters to be consistent with the fraudulent vote count it creates.

If the BDP does indeed plan to use EVMs to steal the 2019 general election, its operatives could launch any number of sophisticated attacks to execute such fraud. The other problem with EVMs is that they compromise the secrecy of a vote because a hacked machine can reveal how someone voted. For the BDP, this would be an intelligence benefit that would allow it to know how certain people voted. The party operates a nationwide patronage system that benefits its members and sympathisers only.

However, some of those people are actually affiliated to the opposition and only identify with the BDP for purposes of economic gain. In one respect, this means that state funds earmarked for patronising the BDP are actually benefitting the opposition. It is an open secret that fearful of being found out, some of the closet opposition members make large cash donations to the opposition because writing a cheque would be too risky.

The BDP leadership knows about this but has no real proof. If as some fear, EVMs are used nefariously, the party could monitor the voting of suspects and have a definite answer within seconds.

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