COMMENTARY: Seeletso; tell the truth about EVMs

SHARE   |   Monday, 30 January 2017   |   By Tate Motlhaleemang Moalosi
COMMENTARY: Seeletso; tell the truth about EVMs

Newly appointed Coordinator of the controversial Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) project, Gabriel Seeletso, has been on a nationwide crusade preaching about the ammendment of the electoral Act to accomodate its use. After initially distancing the  Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) from the controversial ammendment claiming that they are just implementors of the new changes his organisation are now preaching how good the EVMs are. Beyond taking a step further to procure the manchines from their Indian partners, Seeletso and his team are now telling Batswana around the country how the EVMs are stand alone machines and tamperproof. From his presentation Seeletso displays a shocking lack of comprehension of basic technical terminology and does not seem to understand what kind of devices his organization is purchasing for local voters. Seeletso claims that there are two kinds of EMVs, one is computer based, while the other is not. And according to him, the IEC is purchasing the machine that is not computer based. What Seeletso fails to explain, which is common knowledge to even someone with basic IT understanding, is how would an electronic device that takes in data (votes), processes or adds them up and displays them either as a printout or in a screen be classified as not being computer based.

Maybe we need to define a computer. In simple terms a computer is defined as "an electronic device for storing and processing data, typically in binary form, according to instructions given to it in a variable program." With this definition in mind, now consider  what the EVM does; it is an Electronic Device as per its name. It processes Data (votes) and stores such Data for later retrieval. The EVM then adds the votes and outputs the total votes counted at the particular polling station. This therefore means that the EVM is computer based and what Seeletso and the IEC has been telling Batswana is a carefully calculated untruth to make the EVM appear as if it is fortified and could not be hacked or manipulated. Having dismissed the fallacy that the EVM is not computer based, it would be interesting to consider vulnerabilities of the device, as with any other computer based device. As a computer with programs running inside it is clear that, as demonstrated by various experts, this device can be manipulated. The obvious vulnerabilities are that:

1. The IEC has no control of the source code running inside the machine. As a programmable device, a rogue programmer can manipulate the code and create a time bomb that would count the votes cast in favor of one of the competing parties. This code can be made to run on a particular day. And since the BDP knows when the 2019 elections will be they can have this programmed into the machines.
2. Without printouts, there is nowhere we can independently verify that the votes cast are tabulated as cast. It is not clear why the IEC is hostile to the intoduction of a printout as it is done in India, as per the Indian Supreme Court order. The only conclusion is that the IEC has something sinister to hide.
3. Instead of displaying the results at the polling station, the IEC has decided to take all the machines to a central place where they are connected to another machine to add up all the numbers. This is strange as it introduces a loophole in which someone can switch machines, or the tabulating machine can itself be programmed to change the results as they come in. A simple algorithm can do the trick.

We hope the so-called nationwide consultations are not just a smokescreen to authenticate the ammendment of the Electoral Act and acquisition of EVMs, which will be used by some to rig elections. The IEC should take into consideration input and comments from the general public and learn from countries that have already used the EVMs before us.
My conclusion is that, there is something fishy here. And the IEC people know it.
Tate Motlhaleemang Moalosi