With poll results for Uttar Pradesh (UP) Assembly elections expected shortly, Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav on Tuesday, 8 March, alleged tampering of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in Varanasi, raising questions on the authenticity of the forthcoming poll outcomes.
As per Yadav's allegation, the EVMs in the district were being transported by the district magistrate without the local candidates' knowledge.
Video clips circulating online showed local officials carrying EVMs as a crowd gathered and confronted them.
Claiming that "democracy was in danger," Yadav added,
"We need to be alert if EVMs are being transported this way. This is theft. We need to save our votes. We may go to court against it but before that, I want to appeal to people to save the democracy."Akhilesh Yadav
Tuesday's allegations are not the first time that allegations of EVM interference have come to the fore during the poll period.
But what do political parties mean when they claim 'tampering' of EVMs? Do SP's allegations of EVM tampering hold any water?
EC Protocol on Handling of EVMs
The Election Commission (EC) clearly elucidates storage and transportation protocol for the handling of EVMs and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines and its violations. However, there have been some cases of alleged violation of the protocol. But in most cases in the past, the EC maintained that only the machines that were not used in the polling were transported.
On Tuesday, Om Prakash Rajbhar, president of the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, highlighted that election guidelines underline that any EVM leaving the strongroom must be notified to the candidates and the district magistrate.
"Immediately after the voting machines have been received and forth, the room (Strong room) should be locked forthwith... If during this interval (between polling day and counting day), for some unavoidable reason, the room has to be opened, you should send for the candidates or their authorised representatives, by giving them information in writing an opening the room in their presence."Election Commission Guidelines
Varanasi commissioner Deepak Agarwal reportedly admitted to lapses in the movement of the EVMs. He, however, asserted that the EVMs being transported were only being utilised for "training purposes."
While it is not clear what may have happened in Varanasi, here are three scenarios in which tampered EVMs can influence results.
How Can 'Tampered' EVMs Influence Election Results?
As reported by The Quint previously, three scenarios can emerge if the EVM-VVPATs machines are lawlessly transported, brought into possession of people with vested political interests, and subsequently tampered with.
First, a polled EVM-VVPAT could be replaced by another EVM-VVPAT into which votes favouring a particular party may have been punched.
Second, reserve EVM-VVPATs could possibly be tampered with in favour of a political party, with the aim of using it in the next phase of the election.
Third, a political party may have connived with an election officer to gain access to EVM-VVPAT machines, and then rope in experts to crack its vulnerabilities, especially if someone has physical access to the machine.
You can read about these scenarios in depth here.
EVM Security Breaches in Assam & West Bengal
EVM security breaches have taken place in the past, though these may not necessarily have involved tampering.
Last year in April, a set of EVM and VVPAT machines were found inside a BJP candidate’s car in Assam. The EVM-VVPAT had been used at Ratabari polling station in Karimganj district the same day.
A few days later, a similar commotion ensued after reserve EVM-VVPAT machines were found at the home of a Trinamool Congress leader.
Tapan Sarkar, a deputed Election Officer for Howrah’s Sector 17 in AC 177 Uluberia Uttar in West Bengal, accepted that he had stayed for a night at the TMC leader's residence as the two were relatives. In this case, the election officer was suspended by the EC.