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Recent EVM Controversy, Tampering & Technology

By Team Legal Helpline India, May 22, 2019

A brief write up on EVM controversy by our expert Umesh Sharma, Advocate. Explaining the various aspects of EVM controversy.

Elections in India by using Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) started in 1982 by-elections of North Paravur Assembly Constituency in Kerala at some of the polling stations followed by selective use of the EVMs at  Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Since  1999, the EVMs were used in the entire Goa Assembly general election. Finally, the  Election Commission decided to use only EVMs for Lok Sabha elections in 2004  and since then EVMs have been used in all elections and the old system of the paper ballot was done away.

There has been a number of issues related to EVM Controversy thereafter in public domain.

The EVMs, unlike other electronic machines, does not have any operating system or internet connection hence the chances of accessing it remotely is completely ruled out.

The program chip inserted in it is one-time use which cannot be reprogrammed under any circumstances and can only be replaced so the chance of pre-feeding of a particular result is ruled out.  It has a voting unit consisting of the buttons and a VVPAT unit attached to it independently to show the casted vote. The issues of pre-turning or pre-feeding of EVMs for desired results is a baseless EVM Controversy.

The process of EVM voting:

The EVMs are firstly transported to place in the state and kept under safe custody to be sent to the different constituencies and then to the booths. During this process, complete randomness is maintained so no one can be sure that which machine will reach which booth.

At every stage, the political parties are involved besides the recording of the process in CCTV. Since every machine has a number,  it can be identified at any stage and its location can be cross-checked at any stage by any political party. This is a major safeguard to any EVM Controversy.

PROCESS ON THE DATE OF POLLING THROUGH EVM

At the booth, mock polling is done and representatives of the political parties are allowed to cast the votes upto 1000 votes randonly and see the result on VVPAT to ensure that the EVMs are not pre-tuned or programmed. The machines are thereafter sealed with the signatures of all representative which can not be tampered.

The number of the EVMs allotted to a booth is noted and the record is shared with all political parties to be cross checked at the time of counting of votes.  Once the mock is completed all the political parties issue a certificate that they have verified the random cheque then only the machine is ready for voting. The Polling officer thereafter monitors the polling by pressing the button every time and makes the machine ready when a voter enters the booth. Any EVM Controversy raised thereafter can only be an afterthought.

Once the button of the EVM has been pressed by the voter, the voter can see his vote in the VVPAT and the print out is generated. Thereafter, the machine remains inactive for 12 seconds hence the instances of booth capturing and mass voting is ruled out completely. Since the EVMs are timed, no vote can be cast after the polling time is over under any circumstances.

The double cheque to such eventuality is that the number of total votes cast during the polling time is entered in a chart and shared with all polling agents hence any vote cast by tampering the machine would create a discrepancy and can be checked at the threshold at the time of counting of the votes.

The present EVM Controversy of hue and cry being raised by isolated media reports of EVMs being ferried in private vehicles is the only misrepresentation as these EVMs are extra EVMs to be used as a stand by at the disposal of the poll authorities and now being ferried to be returned at the places determined by the Election Commission or the local administration.  

Since the EVM number is already entered in the chart given to all political parties and the EVMs are sealed under the strong room same day under protection of the para military forces, the movement of the extra EVMs now being ferried back to the stock is recorded and shown by the media in an attempt to create EVM Controversy.

COUNTING OF VOTES AND EVM CONTROVERSY:

All the EVMs are already sealed in a strong room at the district headquarters under the guard of para military forces under CCTV since the day of elections. The EVMs are arranged booth wise in the guard room and taken out in the same sequence. The agents of political parties are allowed to cross cheque the EVM numbers and seals before the process of pressing the result buttons.

Once the agents certify about the EVMS, the result button is pressed and counting commences. The results are compiled and counter signed by all. Any protest is registered at the time of counting only by the agent of the political parties and taken into consideration even subsequently. The hue and cry about the EVM controversy made thereafter is only a gimmick and has no meaning.

TAMPERING OF EVM:

The first accusation of EVM tampering erupted for the first time in 2009 General Elections when BJP lost the general elections and it was alleged that the EVMs were tampered and hacked but BJP became silent once they won the elections in 2014 and the allegations fell in the mouth of SP, BSP, AAP, Congress after they lost the UP Assembly Elections in 2017.

The EVM Controversy has thereafter remained a moot point although the election commission made an open offer to all to hack its EVB and nothing came out.

There has been much debate, allegations, counter allegations, claims, counter claims on holding the elections through EVMs followed by a number of petitions before courts but now the controversy rests finally as theSupreme Court has also turned down all such please of hacking of EVM.

If we analyze the scheme of the EVMs, it is in such a manner that it is impossible to hack it or tune it to give a particular result. There are manual cheques and cross cheques to ensure the proper functioning of EVMs which all participating parties acknowledge in writing.

THE SAFETY IN EVMs

Introduction of EVMS has introduced several benefits besides efficiency in terms of faster result announcement, elimination of miscounting of votes or the simplicity of the vote casting method, the system has become faster and more trustworthy than the paper ballots. Earlier,  the paper ballots instances of miscounting led to questions regarding the winning of candidates, EVM puts that dilemma to rest.

As a measure of cross cheque and safeguard in voting through EVMs,   (VVPAT), Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail was introduced in EVMs by the Supreme Court’s order in 2013. This is a printout of the vote that a voter has cast by pushing the button on the EVM which is visible to the voter and he can raise an objection if the same is not in accordance with the button he pushed.

This system was developed to make sure that voters were satisfied that their votes were being cast to the candidates chosen by them and not to any other party or candidate. The VVPAT is a separate unit attached to the main EVM unit and provides a paper printout of the vote cast by the voter. It ensures double safety in the process of casting of votes through EVMs.

EVM technology has evolved and can be further improved to remove the glitches seen in the various machines and perfect it to be a fool proof system in the future. The Election Commission of India has introduced a new model of the EVM known as the M3 Model to be used in the 2019 General elections and it has claimed that this new model will eliminate the instances of faulty machines that were seen in the past.

The Election Commission threw an open hacking challenge in June 2017 for whoever claimed that the EVMs could be tampered with. This challenge came amidst various claims by cyber experts that the EVMs could be hacked and pre-programmed. Among the most prominent cases was the cyber expert Syed Shuja who claimed via a Skype Interview from London that he was among the developers of the machine and could hack EVM. However, his claims were proven invalid when he could not hack the machine. So all the public debate on hacking, pre determining of EVMs came to an end with it.

The demerits of the EVMs is its malfunctioning during the election process has been reported in the past as a result of some inherent defects in a particular machine. Although the machine is replaced on receipt of the malfunction report, the voting process remains hampered for the time being and sometimes a repoll has to be done. To handle such situations, extra EVMs are given under the control of polling authorities who can call for the substitute EVMs and the votes stored in both the EVMs are taken into account.

 Hacking of EVM at the mass level is not possible at present neither it can be pre set to give a particular result, maybe in the future as we have seen with all electronic gadgets and machines, be it smartphone, TV, computer; anything can be hacked.

The EVM used in India consists of a control unit, a ballot unit, and a VVPAT. Each EVM unit is separate and is not connected to any other device. So, even if tampering was possible, each EVM would have to be tampered with separately which would require extensive preparation on part of the hacker and a whole network of cyber experts along with help from the Election Commission itself. This is quite a far-fetched theory to be possible.

Even though quite a few controversies surround EVMs, they all revolve around whether the EVMs can be hacked or tampered with, which has not been proven so far.

These controversies by far are nothing compared to the unfair practices that were witnessed when the paper ballots were being used to cast votes during elections. Unless there is proof of tampering with EVMs, they are definitely the better option, but if they are in fact hackable, it might lead to a catastrophe during elections which will be pre-determined.

Thus, research and development should not be stopped to make the EVMs tamper proof and make the elections safe and fair for everybody. But reverting to paper ballots is definitely a retrograde step that must be avoided on accounts of the more unfair practices itself.

The writer of EVM Controversy Mr Umesh Sharma, Advocate is a practicing lawyer at Supreme Court and he can be reached at fylfotumesh@gmail.com.

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