EVM is Tamper-Proof, Political Noise Shouldn’t Shake Public Faith

Doubts on EVM are misplaced as the machines have survived incumbent govts since 1998, writes former CEC SY Quraishi.

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Ever since the elections in UP and Punjab, many political parties have been questioning the reliability of EVMs. Besides the BSP, the AAP has been the most vocal critic. The latter demanded that the ensuing municipal elections in Delhi must be held with paper ballots.

The State Election Commission rejected the demand saying that all arrangements had been made for elections with the EVMs and it will be impossible to go back to paper ballots. Even the Delhi High Court rejected this demand. AAP’s attack on EVMs became louder after their poor performance in the municipal elections.

Also Read: Mission Impossible? A Dummy’s Guide on How to Make EVMs Hack-Proof


Are the EVMs Vulnerable?

On 9 May, a member of AAP demonstrated in the Delhi Vidhan Sabha a prototype of EVM on which the result could be manipulated by activating a hidden code. Obviously, this became a hot topic for debate in the media.

The main argument against this demonstration is that a prototype is not the actual machine, which is used by the EC. ECI-EVMs are subjected to several layers of security checks, including a strict custodial security.

It has been impossible in the last 20 years for any political party or a potential hacker to get hold of the ECI-EVM, except once when an EVM was stolen from the Collectorate of Mumbai to demonstrate that hacking was possible.

A video went viral on YouTube. It seemed like clinching evidence of the hackability of ECI-EVM. The guy who demonstrated the “hacking” was asked by police to disclose how he got a stolen property. The hacker refused to answer and spent a good 10 days in police and judicial custody.

The fact that out of nearly 20,00,000 machines, just one could be taken out of the custodial security in two decades, only proves how difficult it is to get hold of the real ECI-EVM.

Also Read: ‘Kejriwal vs EVM’: Twitter Says AAP Organised a Comedy Show


Three Generations of EVMs Since 1998

The modus operandi demonstrated in the Delhi Assembly included a secret code being embedded in the machine, which could be activated at any point of time, after which every vote would go to a particular party.

Initially, it wowed the audience before they realised that this was an imitation machine and not the one used by the ECI. Therein lies the crucial difference.

EVMs have been in use since 1998. No government has lasted in power these two decades.

Political parties have won and lost elections with regular intervals. Governments have come and gone. If the machines were hackable, the government under which the machines were first made would not have lost elections.

So far, three generations of EVMs have been made under different regimes. But no regime has lasted beyond their mandate.


EC’s Dare

The ECI has convened a meeting of all the political parties on 12 May to discuss the issue. There is a speculation that the EC will throw an open challenge to hackers to come and prove their claims.

It was reported that the EC will invite all possible challengers in the first week of May. This has not happened yet. Any delay is leading to public disaffection and giving rise to speculation and rumours which need to be nipped in the bud. Hopefully, at the all-party meeting, the EC will spell out its programme for the so-called hackathon.

Also Read: 10 Questions AAP’s EVM ‘Exposé’ Fails to Answer


Four-Tiers of Security

Meanwhile, it is important to remember that there are four levels of security in the EVMs.

1) Technical Safeguards: The machines are made exclusively by two central public sector undertakings, BEL (Bharat Electronics Ltd) and ECIL (Electronics Corporation of India Ltd), which make high security defence equipment.

The software used is burnt into a one-time programmable/masked chip so that it cannot be altered or tampered with. The machines are not networked either by wire or by anything wireless with any other machine or system which rules out hacking.

2) Fool-proof protective custody at ALL stages: From the strong room to the polling stations, there are three levels of checks and three mock polls. Political party representatives are always present to witness and certify the entire process. Additionally, this is videographed.

3) An independent Technical Advisory Committee of five professors of top IITs oversee the entire process.

4) The functioning of the ECI–EVMs has been challenged before several high courts who after examining technicians and computer experts were satisfied about the non-tamperability of the ECI-EVMs.


Judicial Scrutiny

The highest judicial examination was by the apex court (SC 2013, Subramanian Swamy vs ECI). It was contended that in order to make EVMs completely tamper-proof and ensure transparency, a Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) is essential. The EC informed the Supreme Court that it was already working on the concept, its Technical Advisory Committee had already approved the design on 26 May 2011, and a field test was conducted in five climatic zones.

The apex court appreciated the “pragmatism and reasonable approach” of the EC and commented, “we appreciate the efforts and good gesture made by ECI in introducing the system”.

Coming to the conclusion that paper trail is an “indispensable requirement of free and fair elections”, the court ‘directed’ the Government of India to provide the requisite funds for the procurement of VVPAT machines. The court allowed the EC to introduce the machines in phases, which is being done.

Also Read: England, Italy, Germany Have Banned EVMs: What Were Their Reasons?


Procurement of VVPAT Machines Before 2019

Unfortunately, the government delayed the release of requisite funds. After 11 reminders it has finally sanctioned the funds. The question is whether 16 lakh machines would be ready by 2019 elections. In the meantime, the EC must start using VVPATS in all the forthcoming state elections along with the machines already procured. Hopefully with VVPAT, the controversy will end for good.

Public faith and trust in the electoral system is paramount. It must not be allowed to be shaken by the political noise.

Also Read: After EVM Controversy, Poll Panel’s Political Comment Uncalled For


(The writer is a former Chief Election Commissioner and the author of ‘An Undocumented Wonder – the Making of the Great Indian Election’. He can be reached @DrSYQuraishi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Topics:  Aam Aadmi Party   EVM   Election Commission 

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