An invitation for hackers to test Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) supplied by Bharat Electronics Limited of India at a demonstration session next week Thursday in Gaborone has sparked widespread controversy in the political arena. The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has invited "those with the know how to disrupt, hack and compromise the security performance of the machines to do so" at a demonstration session by Bharat on how the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail works, next week. "All those with technical capability to hack the EVM are invited to come forward and register with the Project Coordinating Unit by end of business on Monday 15," says Acting Secretary of the IEC, Bontle Marumoloa. The demonstration comes long before a case in which opposition Botswana Congress Party (BCP) is suing government and the IEC over the amendment of the electoral Act, which introduces the procurement and use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). Last week the IEC indicated that they have suspended the procurement of EVMs pending the court case.
Although the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), who used their majority in Parliament to pass the controversial amendment paving the way for EVMs, is happy with the demonstration opposition parties are reading ulterior motives into the development. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) argues that there is a legal dispute before the courts over the introduction and use of EVMs. Therefore, they argue, honouring an invitation to the demonstration by Bharat will be tantamount to endorsing procurement and use of the machines in the 2019 general elections. UDC spokesperson Moeti Mohwasa said they have long adopted a position that they are not going to have anything to do with EVMs and are holding on to that stand. "There is a matter before the courts on EVMs, which is yet to be decided. If anybody wants to prove anything then they should wait for the resolution of that matter. Otherwise this is a clear demonstration of how the BDP government and its functionaries flagrantly disrespect the court process and the laws of this country," said Mohwasa. For his part Thapela Pabalinga, the BDP spokesperson, expressed disappointment at the reaction from opposition parties. He said the BDP supports ongoing consultation process by the IEC to help all stakeholders appreciate the use of EVMs and allay fears of voter rigging. "Opposition parties have been complaining about lack of a verifiable paper trail and consultations. Now they don't want it. That conduct is anti-progress. The IEC should continue with due process of consultations to help voters understand the machine and ensure that everybody is comfortable with them come 2019," he said. An IT expert, Tebogo Letlhogile Mogaleemang says any machine can be hacked and anyone who thinks otherwise is hopelessly naive. "I think people have a wrong idea of what hacking means and clearly that seems to be the case with IEC as well. Is the pre-configuration of an EVM machine with software that manipulates the votes not a form of hacking? A chance of that being done by people who may attempt to 'hack' the machines on the 18th is close to zero. If IEC is genuine, they should release the hardware and software architecture of the machines if they are that confident. If not, then they are denying the 'wannabe' hackers the chance to start from the same position as the unrecognised 'potential' hackers who designed the machine," he said.
A political commentator says:
Unlike EVMs, a Ballot paper can be read and counted many times and it can never change what is written on it at any given time. On the contrary, a hackable machine can be made un-hackable, surely if you make a code that is un-hackable Now, it does not mean that a different patent or a programme cannot be installed in well over 100,000 machines carrying a prototype determined by a programmer based on the buyer's demands at another time. An EVM is an electronic machine programmed by a person and a programmer can intentionally leave options of the code with none ending probabilities with intended outcomes. This can be tested in a court of law. However what has yet to be tested in court is the Trust bestowed by the people on IEC. Now people are questioning IEC and this then calls for a new dispensation. A perceived trust does not necessarily prove or show course for an act out of the ordinary, again it does not show otherwise that there will be no Program Manipulation, nor does testing of machines now prove that there will be no manipulation later. In a case where there is a possibility of Programming these machines in a certain way outside expectations, how can a court of law then determine that one person's vote can be trusted as true if such a vote cannot be questioned or used a prove at a later stage. In court it is not practical to present 100,000 machines as evidence on an alleged election vote rigging (though it’s possible to present), however the machines in themselves can be admissible as evidence, the challenge will be arguing and factorizing the outcomes of such machines as the court would have to read the source code which is the one that determines outcome. Again, there are hidden codes with codes and it is not for courts of law to understand Programming, but without knowing and seeing the source code and testing it in all the over 100,000 machines, then what would be the point of not complaining about them now.