‘Redesign EVMs, Facilitate Audits’: Experts’ Recommendations to EC

“Elections must be conducted assuming that the EVM-VVPAT are vulnerable to manipulations, the experts note.

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The Citizens’ Commission on Elections (CCE), a group of experts including retired judges, bureaucrats and professors, on 30 January, Saturday, released a report highlighting serious concerns related to EVM-VVPAT. At the same time, the report – ‘Is the Indian EVM and VVPAT System Fit For Democratic Elections?’ – makes recommendations to overcome these concerns.

The CCE organised two press conferences in Chennai and Kolkata, keeping in mind the upcoming Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. In its press release, the CCE said:

“The findings reveal that there is, indeed, no guarantee that the voters’ choice has been reflected with total fidelity in all cases. Domain experts, therefore, submit that immediate steps need to be taken to rectify the Election Commission of India’s (ECI’s) current procedures, irrespective of the scale and extent of possible error or manipulation... the present ‘quality assurance’ and testing strategies of the ECI certainly do not rule out scope for mischief or the manoeuvring of results.”

While addressing the press conference in Kolkata, Jawhar Sircar, former CEO of Prasar Bharati, highlighted multiple articles on EVM-VVPAT reported by The Quint, which are also a part of the CCE report.

“The Quint reported on discrepancies in votes polled and counted in the Lok Sabha elections 2019. If the system is so foolproof, then there should not be a single vote discrepancy. If EVM-VVPAT is so efficient, then why are developed countries not using it?”
Jawahar Sircar, former CEO, Prasar Bharati

What Is CCE?

The CCE was set up on 5 March 2020, with the mandate to draw upon expert advice where necessary and come up with appropriate suggestions to ensure that elections in the country are conducted with fairness and integrity.

The CCE comprises Justice Madan Lokur, former Supreme Court judge, Wajahat Habibullah, former Chief Information Commissioner, Justice Hari Paranthaman, former Madras High Court, Professor Arun Kumar, eminent economist, Pamela Philipose, senior journalist and MG Devasahayam, who is former army and IAS officer.

The CCE has relied on depositions and expert opinions of several national and international experts including Dr Subhashis Banerjee, professor, Computer Science, IIT Delhi, Ronald L Rivest of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Alex Halderman of the University of Michigan in US, Douglas W Jones of the University of Iowa in US.


Concerns Raised by CCE on EVM-VVPAT

Here are the five major concerns raised in the CCE report:

  • In an EVM, a vote is recorded electronically by press of a button. But the voter cannot examine what has been recorded, there is no way to provide a guarantee to a voter that her/his vote is cast as intended (recorded correctly in the EVM), recorded as cast (what is recorded in the EVM is what is collected in the final tally) and counted as recorded. Due to absence of end-to-end (E2E) verifiability, the present EVM system is not verifiable and therefore is unfit for democratic elections.
  • That an EVM has not yet been detected to have been hacked provides no guarantee that it cannot be hacked. Thus, elections must be conducted assuming that the EVM-VVPAT are vulnerable to manipulations.
  • VVPAT or Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail was introduced to assure the voter that her/his vote has gone to the candidate of her/his choice and also to make the voting system auditable. In the current system, a voter is able to see the VVPAT slip only for a few seconds before it falls in the box. Although the correct VVPAT protocol is to allow a voter to approve the VVPAT slip before the vote is cast and to provide an option to cancel her/his vote if a discrepancy is noticed by the voter.
  • The ECI’s VVPAT system is not truly voter-verified because it does not provide the necessary agency to a voter to cancel her/his vote if she/he thinks it has been recorded incorrectly. Also in case the voter raises a dispute, there is no way for her to prove that she/he is not lying. And penalising a voter in such a situation is incorrect.
  • Based on the Supreme Court’s order, the ECI tallies the VVPAT slips with at least 5 EVMs in each Assembly segment in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Hence, there is no 100 percent post-election audit of the EVM counts against manual counting of the VVPAT slips, to ensure verification and reliable ascertainment of results.

Recommendations To Overcome EVM-VVPAT Concerns

The CCE has made five recommendations to EC in its report:

  • EVMs cannot be assumed to be tamper proof. The electronic voting system should be redesigned to be software and hardware independent in order to be verifiable or auditable. This does not imply that software or hardware cannot be used, but that the correctness of the election outcome cannot be entirely dependent on their working correctly.
  • The VVPAT system should be re-designed to be fully voter-verified. The voters get the VVPAT printout in her/his hand to verify and then the voter can put the same in the box. She/he should be able to cancel the vote if the VVPAT slip does not show the candidate of her/his choice.
  • There must be stringent audit of the EVM vote count before the results are declared. A significant sample size of the VVPAT slips should be counted based on well established statistical audit techniques. In some cases, depending on the margin of victory, a full manual counting of VVPAT slips could be required.
  • There should be legislation to decide what is to be done if the audits reveal a problem. Such legislation should not be subjective to the decision of a few government officials, rather it should be based on well established statistical procedures.
  • The EVM-VVPAT designs should be subjected to independent (of the government and ECI) review and the integrity of the election process should be subjected to independent audit. The findings should be made public. In particular, all design details should be transparent and publicly available.

The CCE will submit the report EVM-VVPAT to the ECI on 1 February. “We sent a detailed questionnaire to the EC but received no reply from them. Now, CCE will only submit this report and not ask for any response,” said MG Devasahayam, retired bureaucrat.

The ECI’s conduct of the 2019 parliamentary elections invited serious controversy. Several reputed election organisations, like the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), questioned the very fairness of the election process.

But the ECI chose to respond to criticism with an alarming silence in most of the cases or aggressively defending its record with patent infirmities.

The CCE has placed the EVM-VVPAT report in public domain at a crucial moment, when five states are to go to elections this year.

Here are links to some key articles by The Quint, which are part of the CCE report:

EVM Vote Count Mismatch In 370+ Seats and EC Refuses to Explain

EVM-VVPAT Vulnerable to Manipulation – Public Unaware & EC Silent

Why Did EC Destroy VVPAT Slips of 2019 LS Polls in Such a Hurry?

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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