Essence of Electronic voting for Credible Election in Bangladesh: An Inquiry in the Light of Civic Opinion


Bashir Ahmed*
Mohammad Tarikul Islam**

Abstract: Electronic Voting is an essential force that plays critical role as one of the main basic instruments of the credible election. Bangladesh Election Commission has taken steps to introduce electronic voting system in the next parliamentary elections. There has been a debate going on regarding electronic voting, after the Election Commission mentioned a possible plan to introduce electronic voting system in the next general election.  The findings of the civic opinion survey suggest that, illiteracy and lack of social awareness are the major impediment to take full advantage of e-voting for the sake of credible election in Bangladesh

Keywords: Democracy, Election, E-voting, Political Party, Credible Election .


evoting circle

Using electronic voting systems is divisive as some countries used such systems and others did not. Electronic voting (e-voting) is relatively a new concept based on its application that aims at reducing errors and improving the convenience and integrity of election process. E-government is the use of information and communication technologies and the Internet to enhance the accessibility to and delivery of all facets of government services and operations for the benefit of citizens, businesses, employees and other stakeholders is continuously transforming public services delivery system (Stefano, Alessandro, Fabio, Marinella, and Anna, 2008). On the other hand, e-democracy is defined as “the use of the Internet as a medium for democratically selecting political leaders, public policies, or both”.

E-democracy[1] has two main objectives; the first one is to provide citizens with the accessibility to information and knowledge about the political process, services and choices available; and the second one is to make possible the transition from passive information access to active citizen participation. The main characteristics of e-democracy are dissemination of political information, e-voting and participation in e-decision making.  Polling place electronic voting or Internet voting examples have taken place in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Estonia, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Romania, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Venezuela, and the Philippines ( Ronald, Matthew, Schoenmakers, and Moti, 1995).

The advantages that e-voting systems can bring cannot be achieved without an observable cost (e.g., risks). One of which is opening up security vulnerabilities to attackers. In that respect, recently we have seen that most currently deployed e-voting systems share critical failures in their design and implementation, which render their technical and procedural controls insufficient to guarantee trustworthy voting. The lack of trust can also render even more secure and more reliable e-voting systems completely useless (Council of Europe, 2004).  Clearly, the abundance of security threats in e-voting systems and their increasing popularity make a strong case for the need to propose new designs, protocols/schemes, techniques and tools for their design, development as well as their security assessment.

The application and use of known techniques such as business process modeling and formal techniques and tools in voting, in general and in the development of an e-voting solution in particular, however are very limited and unsatisfactory. Additionally, work to rigorously define e-voting properties and attack models and languages to describe the counter-measurements is still more preliminary. Although some progress has been made in understanding and supporting the better development of e-voting system, there is no classification to understand the common characteristics, objectives, and limitations of these approaches (Aleks, Clark, Carback, and Popoveniuc, 2007). Thus the lack of a comprehensive comparative study provides little or no direction on choosing the appropriate development techniques for particular needs.

Bangladesh is continuously struggling to make herself a democratic developed nation since its inception as an independent state. But several political ups and downs, introduction of one party system, military rules, and irresponsible competition of political parties to capture power have placed the democratic journey of the country at stake.  The political problems that Bangladesh is suffering is not rooted in the constitution, rather it is totally political. Even, the nation has restarted her journey to democracy with overthrown of 8 years long military regime in 1990 but the path is not moisturized till now. Institutionalization of democracy is not yet to be evolved for many reasons.

Apprehension relating to the question of credible election remains vital impediments to democratic development in Bangladesh.  An election is fair if the result is favorable, otherwise it is unfair. Such sort of existing chronic problems within political parties have jeopardized the journey towards sustainable democratic system in Bangladesh. Bangladesh Election Commission[2] is decided to introduce electronic voting system in the next parliamentary elections. The Commission is found to be unequivocal to launch e-voting in every constituency or as much as possible in the next general election to ensure free and fair polls.

The paper is intended to focus on importance of e-voting in developing country like Bangladesh where election is found to emerge as the major component of democratic practice as political parties sought after credibility of the electoral process.

Electronic Voting: Conceptual Argument

E-democracy is meant for promotion of democracy by taking advantage of automated device. It does not mean to implement direct democracy, but rather a tool to enable more participatory democracy as it exists now. Over the years, there is an increasing disparity in national e-governance and e-democracy (Federal Election Commission, 2002). These trends seem to be a primarily western sensation. Electronic voting is a term encompassing several different types of voting, embracing both electronic means of casting a vote and electronic means of counting votes. Electronic voting technology can include punched cards, optical scan voting systems and specialized voting kiosks (including self-contained direct-recording electronic voting systems, or DRE). It can also involve transmission of ballots and votes via telephones, private computer networks, or the Internet. In general, two main types of e-Voting can be identified (Federal Election Commission, 2005):

  • E-voting which is physically supervised by representatives of governmental or independent electoral authorities (e.g. electronic voting machines located at polling stations);
  • Remote e-Voting where voting is performed within the voter’s sole influence, and is not physically supervised by representatives of governmental authorities.
  • Electronic voting technology can speed the counting of ballots and can provide improved accessibility for disabled voters. However, there has been contention, especially in the United States, that electronic voting, especially DRE voting, could facilitate electoral fraud.
  • Electronic voting systems for electorates have been in use since the 1960s when punched card systems debuted. Their first widespread use was in the USA where 7 counties switched to this method for the 1964 presidential election. The newer optical scan voting systems allow a computer to count a voter’s mark on a ballot (Fujioka, Okamoto, and Ohta, 1993). DRE voting machines which collect and tabulate votes in a single machine are used by all voters in all elections in Brazil and India, and also on a large scale in Venezuela and the United States.

They have been used on a large scale in the Netherlands but have been decommissioned after public concerns. Internet voting systems have gained popularity and have been used for government elections and referendums in the United Kingdom, Estonia and Switzerland as well as municipal elections in Canada and party primary elections in the United States and France (Gardner, Garera, & Rubin, 2007). There are also hybrid systems that include an electronic ballot marking device (usually a touch screen system similar to a DRE) or other assistive technology to print a voter verified paper audit trail, and then use a separate machine for electronic tabulation.

Paper-based electronic voting system

Sometimes called a “document ballot voting system“, paper-based voting systems originated as a system where votes are cast and counted by hand, using paper ballots. With the advent of electronic tabulation came systems where paper cards or sheets could be marked by hand, but counted electronically. These systems included punched card voting, mark sense and later digital pen voting systems. Most recently, these systems can include an Electronic Ballot Marker (EBM) that allows voters to make their selections using an electronic input device, usually a touch screen system similar to a DRE ( Kenneth, 1991). Systems including a ballot marking device can incorporate different forms of assistive technology.

Direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting system

Electronic voting machine by Premier Election Solutions (formerly Diebold Election Systems) used in all Brazilian elections and plebiscites. A direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machine records votes by means of a ballot display provided with mechanical or electro-optical components that can be activated by the voter (typically buttons or a touch screen); that processes data with computer software; and that records voting data and ballot images in memory components. After the election it produces a tabulation of the voting data stored in a removable memory component and as printed copy. The system may also provide a means for transmitting individual ballots or vote totals to a central location for consolidating and reporting results from precincts at the central location (Margaret, 2008). These systems use a precinct count method that tabulates ballots at the polling place. They typically tabulate ballots as they are cast and print the results after the close of polling.

Public network DRE voting system

A public network DRE voting system is an election system that uses electronic ballots and transmits vote data from the polling place to another location over a public network. Vote data may be transmitted as individual ballots as they are cast, periodically as batches of ballots throughout the Election Day, or as one batch at the close of voting. This includes Internet voting as well as telephone voting. Public network DRE voting system can utilize either precinct count or central count method. The central count method tabulates ballots from multiple precincts at a central location ( Naveen, 2007). Internet voting can use remote locations (voting from any Internet capable computer) or can use traditional polling locations with voting booths consisting of Internet connected voting systems.

Electronic ballots

Electronic voting systems may use electronic ballots to store votes in computer memory. Systems which use them exclusively are called DRE voting systems. When electronic ballots are used there is no risk of exhausting the supply of ballots. Additionally, these electronic ballots remove the need for printing of paper ballots, a significant cost.[15] When administering elections in which ballots are offered in multiple languages (in some areas of the United States, public elections are required by the National Voting Rights Act of 1965), electronic ballots can be programmed to provide ballots in multiple languages for a single machine (Melanie, 2009). The advantage with respect to ballots in different languages appears to be unique to electronic voting.

Effectiveness of E-voting: Some Reflections

credible electionElectronic voting systems may offer advantages compared to other voting techniques. An electronic voting system can be involved in any one of a number of steps in the setup, distributing, voting, collecting, and counting of ballots, and thus may or may not introduce advantages into any of these steps. Potential disadvantages exist as well including the potential for flaws or weakness in any electronic component (Carter Center, 2006).

Charles Stewart of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology[3] estimates that 1 million more ballots were counted in the 2004 USA presidential election than in 2000 because electronic voting machines detected votes that paper-based machines would have missed.

In May 2004 the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report titled “Electronic Voting Offers Opportunities and Presents Challenges”, analyzing both the benefits and concerns created by electronic voting (Election Assistance Commission, 2005). A second report was released in September 2005 detailing some of the concerns with electronic voting, and ongoing improvements, titled “Federal Efforts to Improve Security and Reliability of Electronic Voting Systems Are Under Way, but Key Activities Need to Be Completed”.

It has been demonstrated that as voting systems become more complex and include software, different methods of election fraud become possible. Others also challenge the use of electronic voting from a theoretical point of view, arguing that humans are not equipped for verifying operations occurring within an electronic machine and that because people cannot verify these operations, the operations cannot be trusted. Furthermore, some computing experts have argued for the broader notion that people cannot trust any programming they did not author.

Election voting machines have provided a number of benefits to the election process. For example, direct recording electronic machines can be equipped with audio or tactile devices that allow disable citizen to cast ballot independently, they also help conduct election in more efficient and effective manner, like reducing the cost associated with printing ballot and hiring extra polling staff. Voting machines can also spit out election tallies much quicker and more accurately than exhausted polling station staff; they reduce human errors in generating election result and also reduce the cost of conducting election. So the major benefits of e-voting could be summarizing in the following points: reduced costs, increased participation and voting options, greater speed and accuracy placing and tallying votes, greater accessibility and flexibility for the disable (Electoral Commission, 2007).

As we pinpointed few benefits of e-voting, some risks are associated with using and depending on electronic systems. Programming errors can be very simple like adding semi-colon in the wrong place can completely change a program. There are many risks experienced during the development stage of any system, product delivery, maintenance between elections and the pre-and post-election intervals. The greatest threat identified involves a person gaining access to a voting system and interring malicious code into the voting system software. This malicious code could exploit vulnerabilities in the voting software to spread virally from machine to machine causing voting machine to fail to record votes, failing to comply with legal requirement and calculating vote totals in a way that is inconsistent with legal requirements.

Applying technology to solve one problem may introduce other problems. For example, E-voting systems are introduced to eliminate paper and many other problems, but without a paper copy, the voters cannot check that their votes are correctly recorded and cannot independently validate votes’ totals.  Electronic voting can be secure and confidential as paper-based voting. With respect to the assurance of e-voting systems, existing works focus on two main areas to assess the security of e-voting systems. While the first one focuses on providing lower-level assurances, the other focuses on providing higher-level assurances; both use powerful techniques and tools.

Electronic voting machines can be made fully accessible for persons with disabilities. Punched card and optical scan machines are not fully accessible for the blind or visually impaired, and lever machines can be difficult for voters with limited mobility and strength.  Electronic machines can use headphones, sip and puff, foot pedals, joy sticks and other adaptive technology to provide the necessary accessibility (Government and Accountability Office, 2005).

The use of formal methods in the specification and verification of e-voting systems is relatively new. Existing works in this area present formal specification and verification of an e-voting system at different levels of abstraction. These works aim to demonstrate how feasible the formal verification of voting machine logic, thereby providing a higher level of assurance about the security of the system. In this area the trends focus on three closely related aspects, mainly according to the aim of the verification. These are verifying cryptographic protocols, system behavior, and procedures.

It is apparent that, Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) are being used in Indian General and State Elections to implement electronic voting in part from 1999 elections and in total since 2004 elections. The EVMs reduce the time in both casting a vote and declaring the results compared to the old paper ballot system. However, EVMs have been under a cloud of suspicion over their alleged tamparability and security problems during elections (especially after the 2009 general elections). After rulings of Delhi High Court, Supreme Court and demands from various political parties, Election Commission decided to introduce EVMs with Voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) system. India, the world’s largest democracy with 660 million registered voters, moved to full direct recording electronic voting in its 2004 general elections, deploying roughly one million specially designed push-button machines.

E-voting in Bangladesh: Current Trend Analysis

Bangladesh Election Commission has taken steps to introduce electronic voting system in the next parliamentary elections using local technology and the commission had decided to launch e-voting in every constituency or as much as possible in the next general election to ensure free and fair polls. Election commissioners, working with a team from the Institute of Information and Communication Technology (IICT) of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), have already visited the Bangladesh Machine Tools Factory (BMTF) to launch the project and the e-voting programme will continue as it will be included in the Bangladesh Election Commission’s five-year plan. Some 160,000 EVMs will be needed to cover 85 million voters of the country’s 300 parliamentary seats.

The Bangladesh Election Commission already used transparent ballot boxes in the last general election on the basis of a consensus of the political parties (the Daily Star, 2010).  The ruling political party Bangladesh Awame league welcomed the move of Bangladesh Election Commission towards electronic voting system. Even, the ruling party pointed out this transformation as one of their electoral pledges to the nation. The ruling party strongly favored the introduction of EVM (electronic voting machine) as Bangladesh needs to keep up with the pace of the modern technology and development. Alliances of Bangladesh Awame League i.e. Jatiya Party and leftist have also voted in favor of e-voting system in Bangladesh. On the contrary, the main opposition to the parliament, BNP does not show affirmative reaction over the e-voting rather apprehended saying that, the government was launching e-voting system for ‘digital rigging’ in the next general election. The electronic voting system was successfully used in the mayoral elections in the recent past.

Recently, there has been a debate going on regarding electronic voting, after the Election Commission mentioned a possible plan to introduce electronic voting system in the next general elections.  The ruling party government sided with Bangladesh Election Commission’s decision and has spoken in favor of electronic voting. The main opposition party BNP has opposed the idea of e-voting.  In a country like Bangladesh, where the literacy rate is 53 per cent and where computer literacy rate is even less, such electronic ballots may turn into ‘of no use’ (the Prothom Alo, 2011).

Those who are fighting to keep the existing machines like to claim that those who want a verifiable paper trail are fighting against progress  is trying to go backwards away from electronic voting to a paper world. Of course, nothing can be further from the truth. Those who want the verifiable paper receipt aren’t against electronic voting at all. They just understand the technology enough to realize that the current system isn’t particularly secure or reliable and they want to make it better (Bangladesh Election Commission, 2012). Once you start going down that trail, however, you need to come up with a system that really is more secure and reliable, and that’s where some researchers are putting a lot of attention these days. The opposition is saying that there is scope to manipulate the result of election through EMV. But it is not rational to avoid the technology as it is in existence in many countries. If there is any loop holes in the system that should be addressed and the authenticity of the system can be checked before the voting by the experts and observers.

Methodology of the Study

The study drew on the preceding argument about the awareness of e-voting and its necessities for the sake of credible election. The study was based on a fieldwork conducted between March and April 2012 and involved the application of a structured but confidential interviews. Opinion survey was conducted with a sample size of 100 voters (age 18+) who were selected randomly in Sere-Bangla Nagar Police Station of Dhaka City Corporation and Upazila Headquarters of Bhaluka Upazila of Mymensingh district to gain a comprehensive impression of the urban and semi-urban dwellers on introduction of e-voting system in Bangladesh. Data were demographically representative of adult Bangladesh residents (urban and semi-urban). Findings are presented below:

Figure-I: Responsiveness about the E-voting initiative of Bangladesh
Election Commission

evoting figure 1From the pie chart on right, it can be seen that out of total number of respondents 75 % are very much aware about the e-voting initiative of Bangladesh Election Commission while 25 % respondents have not idea about the step of election commission to e-voting system in the next national election.




Figure-II: E-voting is advantageous for the voters  

evoting figure 2From the pie chart shown on the right; it can be seen that out of total number of respondents 70 % are of the opinion that, e-voting helps casting vote in transparent and well-organized manner while 30 % opined that, it invites complication and there is likelihood of misappropriation of vote.




Figure-III: E-voting contributes to fair and credible election

evoting figure 3From the pie chart it can be seen that out of total number of respondents 70 % strongly felt that, e-voting contributes to holding election in free , fair and credible manner while only 30 % opined that, e-voting will invite disagreement among the political party as this could instigate election engineering, to some extent.




Conclusion with recommendation for impact oriented e-voting in Bangladesh

A transparent electoral process is essential for ensuring voter’s trust in the system and in the democratic process in general. As a result, some experts advocate disclosing a DRE’s source code. In order to make the e-voting system more vibrant and free from disapproval, errors can be detected by running the software step-by-step or by stopping a program at specified breakpoints and examining variables. Parallel testing during voting (as opposed to parallel vote tabulation (PVT) or quick count, which offers predictions based on a statistically relevant sample of results): This involves selecting a voting machine at random and placing it in a controlled room with a distribution of voters that matches the real distribution as closely as possible.

Nonetheless, election observers can focus on specific steps undertaken at several points in the electoral process in order to determine whether authorities have done their utmost to maximize security, and to minimize the potential for fraud before, during, and after Election Day. These include:

Pre-election:  Voter education -Observers can verify whether voter education encouraged voters to verify their selection before finally casting their ballot. On Election Day before polling, the concerned officials of the election commission have to confirm that zero tape has been printed before voting starts and as well as to confirm that voting machines display the correct precinct numbers. During polling, they have to confirm that voting machines are not networked with an outside computer (e.g., in a tabulation center) while voting takes place.

Networking opens the possibility of interference via modems and should only take place after the electronic result have been printed out by the voting machine, so that aggregated results may be compared against it. Check position of voting units: are units positioned so as to guarantee voter secrecy? Are they away from direct sunlight, so that the writing on the screen is clearly legible? During counting and tabulation, they have to check number of voters against voter list and electronic tally; Review precinct results in order to perform statistical verification of results; Observe delivery of the voting materials (electronic media and paper records) and where there is a paper trail, carry out sampling and “hot audits.”  As part of Post-election measurement, the election commission has to assess the quality of post-election tests; Check whether procedures were followed and consult with technical experts.

There are a number of established approaches for modeling, specifying, and verifying a system satisfies a set of properties. One important contributor to the security of any system is the way in which the software is designed and developed. Standards for software engineering developed over the last forty plus years require that a system undergo a rigorous process of requirements definition, structured design and review, and careful programming and testing. Like proper engineering leads to cars of higher quality, so too does better software engineering lead to more secure, robust software computer systems. Systems that are designed without this kind of careful design and implementation are almost certain to have flaws and security issues.

Developing and deploying e-voting systems in a safe and secure manner requires ensuring the technical and procedural levels of assurance with respect to social and regulatory frameworks. In this paper, we have presented techniques mainly in three areas (namely, BPR, formal methods, and security) and showed how these techniques are effectively exercised for correct design and implementation of e-voting systems. Therefore, the success of the next generation of e-voting machines depends upon being able to capitalize one the lessons learned from different disciplines. The work we have presented in this paper is one way in which we can get a better understanding of the strengths and the weaknesses of existing techniques and thus lay the foundations for engineering, designing, implementing, as well as deploying a new generation of more secure and robust technologies for polling stations.

By empowering ordinary citizens to participate more directly in their political system, media has to play a major role in Bangladesh. Not only this, but electronic communication and participation in politics may eventually lead to a more direct democracy in which general participation is increased with both potentially positive and negative consequences. Despite the growing popularity of the Internet, radio and television still represent the mode through which the majority people of Bangladesh receive information about national and international events. Radio is by far the most prominent source of information for the people of Bangladesh in general, even when compared to

television or newspapers.

Media democracy is a set of ideas advocating reforming the mass media, strengthening public service broadcasting, and developing and participating in alternative media and citizen journalism. It is a liberal-democratic approach to media studies that advocates the positive impact of e-voting with an emphasis on credible and fair election in Bangladesh, through the use of citizen journalism and alternative media channels. Social awareness campaign under the auspicious of Bangladesh Election Commission to be consolidated across the country with participation and contribution of government entities, non-government organizations, UN agencies. Pro-people advocacy strategy could facilitate gain the popularity about the concept of e-voting among the general people in Bangladesh.

Democratic norms inside political parties are to be established for the institutionalization of democracy. Besides, Political education for the masses and creation of opinion of the people on government policies, roles and functions to be promoted in order to make the citizen responsive about the end benefit of e-voting.   On the top, political parties should arrive at a consensus to strengthen the recent move of Bangladesh Election Commission to ensure fair and credible election.


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*   Associate Professor, Department of Government and Politics, Jahangirnagar University, Savar, Dhaka, Bangladesh

** PhD Researcher, Department of Government and Politics, Jahangirnagar University, Savar, Dhaka, Bangladesh

[1] E-democracy is “the use of information and communications technologies and strategies by ‘democratic sectors’ within the political processes of local communities, states/regions, nations and on the global stage. Democratic actors and sectors in this context include, in order of importance, citizens/voters, political organizations, the media, elected officials, and governments. E-democracy, like democracy in its ideal form, is a direct democracy. In practical form it has been an instantiation of more limited forms of democracy.

[2] The Bangladesh Election Commission is an independent constitutional body of the nation of Bangladesh that operates the legal functions of Election law in that South Asian county. Article 118 of the Bangladeshi Constitution provides for the establishment of an Election Commission for Bangladesh consisting of a Chief Election Commissioner and such number of other Election Commissioners, if any, as the President may from time to time direct. The appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner of Bangladesh and other Election Commissioners (if any) is made by the President.


[3]   Charles Stewart is the Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science at MIT, where he has taught since 1985. His research and teaching areas include congressional politics, elections, and American political development. His current research about Congress touches on the historical development of committees, party leadership, and Senate elections. Since 2001, Professor Stewart has been a member of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, leading research efforts that applies scientific analysis to questions about election technology, election administration, and election reform.


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