India has electronic voting; why can't the U.S.?

Tracking politics as it's practiced on the Web.
Sept. 29 2004 8:17 AM

The Bombay Ballot

What the U.S. can learn from India's electronic voting machines.

(Continued from Page 1)

So, might the Indian way work in the United States? Yes and no. The Indian machines are not designed to handle the large number of candidates that appear on a typical U.S. ballot, though this could be fixed without too much difficulty.

There's another hurdle, what Carnegie Mellon professor Michael Shamos calls "technological chauvinism."

Advertisement

"Except for Japanese cameras and German cars, we believe there's nothing high-tech made outside the U.S. that's worth importing," he says. Certainly not from an impoverished nation like India. True, given the rise of the Indian software industry, that prejudice may be waning, but any American politician who suggested adopting Indian voting machines would probably be accused of outsourcing our democracy.

Also, the Indian machines are far from perfect. They don't provide a "paper trail," which some computer-voting experts consider essential. (Many American e-voting machines, too, fail to provide a paper trail.) The Indian machines malfunctioned at 1,800 voting booths (out of 1 million), and voters needed to cast their ballots again. There was still violence in the electronic election, though far less than in previous ones.

India's Supreme Court chose not to rule on a complaint filed by a computer scientist, concerned that the machines were not as "tamper-proof" as the government claimed. One critic, Frederick Noronha, worries that the government-run companies that manufacture the voting machines refuse to make the source code publicly available. "Abuse is possible merely because nobody quite understands how they work, apart from a handful of officials," says Nornonha.

A voting system, whether Indian or American, is only as honest as the officials running it. In other words, computers don't kill elections. People do. A well-designed machine can only minimize the chances for cheating, not eliminate them.

So, we seek solace in layer upon layer of technology. The problem is that each layer creates unintended consequences, plugging one hole but creating several new ones.

For whatever reason—frugality or backwardness or desire for simplicity—India has concluded that the solution is less technology, not more. Or, as the Russians might put it: Why build a million-dollar pen when a pencil will do?

Correction, Oct. 11, 2004: The article originally claimed that Indians used to vote by pressing an ink-stained thumb onto a paper ballot. In fact, Indians voted by rubber-stamping a paper ballot. They pressed their ink-stained thumbs onto the ballot in order to prevent voter fraud. ( Return to the corrected sentence.) 

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

The U.S. Is So, So Far Behind Europe on Clean Energy

Even if You Don’t Like Batman, You Might Like Gotham

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

How Moscow’s Anti-War March Revealed One of Russia’s Deepest Divides

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Outward
Sept. 22 2014 4:45 PM Why Can’t the Census Count Gay Couples Accurately?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 7:46 PM Azealia Banks’ New Single Is Her Best in Years
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 22 2014 4:34 PM Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.