The future of democratic elections lie in Fault Tolerance Automatic Voting Machines (FTAVM)
by Dr. Ashutosh Kumar Singh, Akilan Thangarajah, King Seh Hong and Sing Ping
Conducting an election in many countries can prove to be a problematic, drawn-out exercise with haphazard processes and often dubious results largely due to the inefficiency of the countries’ voting systems.
Two voting systems are practiced in the world today - the conventional pen-and-paper-based and the electronic-based voting systems. Though the latter relies on an electronic system, it still involves manual processing for vote validation, voter authentication, polling audits and other activities.
Where manual voting systems are concerned, China and India are two examples of countries that face immense difficulties in conducting fair elections, having particularly large populations and multiple electoral levels (in Malaysia, there are only two major elections – the general election and state polls).
With millions of voters and some dozens of candidates involved in a particular election, the voting process can be expected to turn messy at any stage, not to mention the tremendous job for tally centers to validate the millions of votes and count how many votes each candidate has won.
If all that were not burdensome enough, the amount of resources also has to be taken into account when conducting an election. These include the stationery for printing millions of ballot sheets (depending on the country’s population) and the recruitment of thousands of staffs for administrative purposes, as well as organising the voting at all the polling stations and tally centers. There is also a need to hire thousands of security personnel to ensure secure and fair voting. Undoubtedly, excessive sums of money would be spent on such an election.
However, such shortcomings of the manual voting system and existing practices can be replaced with an alternative system. Fault Tolerance Automated Voting Machines (FTAVM)have great potential in incurring less expenditure to governments when conducting elections. FTAVMs are likely to save millions of dollars and consequently, these millions can be diverted to countries’ other necessities and development.
The birth of Fault Tolerance Automatic Voting Machines (FTAVM)
The future of democratic elections is undoubtedly in FTAVMs and the main beneficiaries of such systems are the governments of countries and their people.
In recent years, FTAVMs, sometime referred to as Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), have been commonly used for general elections in many countries, particularly the United States, Canada, India and some other countries.
The design of such a voting machine is usually a combination of network infrastructure, software and hardware that allows voters to cast their votes electronically.
The existing Electronic Voting Machines are commonly referred to as Automatic Voting Machines. However, the perception is entirely wrong. It can be proven when analysing the voting procedures during an EVM-based voting exercise.
In an EVM-based voting system, many procedures still have to be done manually. For example, the identifying of valid voters, and preventing them from double voting; data transfer from polling stating to electoral commission; setting buttons for candidates; auditing vote counts (in the US, a printing ballot paper is placed in a box while casting a vote electronically) and so on. Thus, the existing EVMs are not yet fully automated.
On the other hand, future FTAVMs will be fully automated while satisfying all the requirements (functional and non-functional). The reduced costs of modern chipsets and hardware devices provide a path to achieve that goal. Nevertheless, there are some serious concerns that should be tackled before designs can be said to be viable for practical use. These concerns generally include the level of accuracy, traceability, reliability and security.
How solid are FTAVMs?
Based on the basic concerns, a future FTAVM will likely feature a high level of authentication subsystems for activating the main system, the polling both vote collecting machines, and for voter validation. Hence, it will provide real-time vote counting as all the polling booths, polling centers and electoral commission tally centers will be connected by a reliable data communication networking system.
In addition to all its excellent characteristics, the entire system will have a certain level of redundancy, say Triple Modular Redundancy (TMR), for better fault tolerance and robustness.
Technically speaking, a single FTAVM will have a powerful computer system that acts as a host computer connecting several slave processors to perform all the crucial voting operations. This host computer will perform data communication with the electoral commission server via public domain and networks called Internet Service Providers (ISP) such as Celcom Broadband, Streamyx, Maxis Broadband, etc., in Malaysia.
The Selling Factor
Developing such a system is essential for any country, especially countries having either expansive territories or large populations. This is to ensure a very efficient democratic election is conducted where by all the rules and regulations are complied with.
Such a system will lessen the burden on the electoral commission and the public by reducing manual formalities to prove voters’ identities in a regular format of elections. Furthermore, it will save considerable funds, which could be diverted to other needs of the country.
Dr. Ashutosh Kumar Singh is an Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at Curtin Sarawak. His research interests include verification, synthesis, design and testing of digital circuits and he has published around 60 research papers on the subjects in various conference and research journals. He co-authored two books, ‘Digital Systems Fundamentals’ and ‘Computer System Organisation & Architecture’, and has delivered talks on computer engineering in several countries including Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Dr. Ashutosh can be contacted at +60 85 443939 ext. 3214 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Akilan Thangarajah, King Seh Hong and Sing Ping are fourth-year Computer System Engineering students at Curtin Sarawak’s School of Engineering and Science.