Shooting the EVM

Political parties question the EVM. But when they win with the same machines, they don’t eat their words.

Written by S Y Quraishi | Updated: March 17, 2017 6:31 pm
EVM, EVM controversy, electronic voting machine, electronic voting machine controversy, election commission of India, ECI, arvind kejriwal, state elections, state election results, indian express column, indian express editorial A combination of safeguards ensures that these machines are fully tamper-proof.

The electronic voting machine (EVM) controversy has raised its head again. Ever since EVMs were introduced in 1982, they have been surrounded by challenges. The Election Commission of India has demonstrated time and again how the system is safe and fool-proof.

A combination of safeguards ensures that these machines are fully tamper-proof. Broadly, these can be summed up in four categories: Software and technical, administrative, independent technical watchdog oversight, and judicial scrutiny.

The inventory of technical safeguards is long. The task of making the machines has been given exclusively to two central public sector undertakings, BEL and ECIL, which are entrusted with developing 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 wireless with any other machine or system. Therefore, there is no possibility of data corruption by hacking. The software for this chip is developed in-house by BEL and ECIL independently. The software development team is separate from the production team and reports directly to the CMD. Samples of EVMs from production batches are regularly checked by the quality assurance group which is an independent group within BEL and ECIL.

Administrative security measures include fool-proof protective custody at all stages — from storing the machines in the strong room (the warehouse) to moving them to the polling stations, through 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.

The last-minute check is a mock poll (the third in a series) on the polling day before the actual poll of at least 100 votes in the presence of candidates or their authorised agents to demonstrate that the EVM is working properly. Any defective machine is immediately replaced. Then the poll begins.

After the polls, sealed EVMs are taken under heavy armed escort to the strong room where these are stored till counting. Party agents are encouraged to follow the movement and put their seals on the locks of the strong room and keep 24×7 vigil. They actually sleep there! CCTV supplements the three-tier armed security.

A very important safeguard is an independent Technical Advisory Committee of five professors of top IITs. The EC does not take a single technology decision without their scrutiny and approval. I have personally seen how rigorous their scrutiny is. The functioning of the ECI-EVMs has been challenged before several high courts. The courts examined technicians and computer experts who were either produced by the parties or summoned by the court itself. All the courts were satisfied about the non-tamperability of the ECI-EVMs. The Karnataka High Court went to the extent of commenting that “this (ECI-EVM) invention is undoubtedly a great achievement in the electronic and computer technology and a national pride”. The Kerala High Court also recorded its appreciation of the efficiency of the mechanism of the ECI-EVMs.

The highest judicial examination was by the apex court (SC 2013, Subramanian Swamy vs ECI). It was contended that to make EVMs completely tamper-proof and transparent, a voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) is essential. The EC informed the Supreme Court that it was already working on the concept and its Technical Advisory Committee had already approved the design on May 26, 2011, and got a field test in five climatic zones (Leh, Thiruvananthapuram, Sohra in Meghalaya, Jaisalmer and Delhi). The field test showed many bugs which were corrected and certified by the second field test at the same locations.

The 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 the 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, for which the EC gave an estimate of Rs 1,690 crore for 1.3 million machines. The court allowed the EC to introduce the machines in phases, which it has been doing.

Controversies about EVMs have been raised time and again. Every political party has questioned the EVMs at one point or another. When they win with the same machines, they just keep quiet instead of publicly apologising and eating their words.

What is the course open to stakeholders in the current controversy? Since many parties have gone to court, the court can order the sealing of all the machines about which suspicions were raised. These EVMs can be checked in the presence of the political parties. That will clinch the argument once and for all. Where the VVPAT was used, the cross-checking with vote slips will suffice.

Secondly, just as EVMs were used in every state election after 1998 till the 2004 general election, the EC must start using VVPATs in the entire elections to the state assemblies. The pilot phase is over. The EC should also counter the propaganda, which seems to be spreading like wildfire, more aggressively and proactively. Although it did deny the allegation, the media did not give it as much coverage as it is giving to the rumours.

Public faith and trust in the electoral system is of paramount importance. It must not be allowed to be shaken. The people and political parties have a right to question and the EC a duty to give convincing answers. It must become more vocal.

The EC’s biggest challenge is to conduct the 2019 general election with VVPAT. It must speed up the production of the requisite number of machines. Funds must not be a constraint. Remember, it’s the “direction” of the Supreme Court.

The writer is former chief election commisssioner of India and author of ‘An Undocumented Wonder — The Making of the Great Indian Election’

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  1. N
    Nati
    Mar 17, 2017 at 10:56 am
    Actually the predictions by so called independent surveyors are all to somewhat match the preprogrammed outcomes. Especially "Today's (SCOUNDREL) Chanakya" was exactly the creation of the Lodi Marg!
    Reply
    1. N
      Nati
      Mar 17, 2017 at 10:48 am
      It's all part of brahmin agenda!
      Reply
      1. N
        Nati
        Mar 17, 2017 at 10:53 am
        What? In a country where JUDICIARY IS IN ITSELF CORRUPT?lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Supremely Corrupt(SC).
        Reply
        1. R
          Rajat
          Mar 17, 2017 at 12:10 pm
          अबे की औलाद, मोदी ब्राह्मण है?lt;br/gt;
          Reply
          1. R
            Rajat
            Mar 17, 2017 at 12:09 pm
            AAPtard
            Reply
            1. R
              Rajat
              Mar 17, 2017 at 12:09 pm
              हाहा आजकल टट्टी नहीं आ रही क्या जो यहाँ हग रहे हो?
              Reply
              1. R
                Ramesh
                Mar 17, 2017 at 1:18 pm
                Absurd thought promoted by opposition one after another cannot get digested by voters in fact it is glaring example of vacuume of opposition parties Up elections has been eye opener for parties looking for apportunist Alliance for sake of power.
                Reply
                1. R
                  Ramesh
                  Mar 17, 2017 at 1:25 pm
                  Loss of face for some parties and internal pressure of disintegration had forced them to float this absurd view
                  Reply
                  1. R
                    Rattihallirao
                    Mar 17, 2017 at 7:39 am
                    EVMs are sure objects of suspisions and prone to frauds by partie with muscle and money, which BJP abundantly pocess, this party historically had funds and made all other parties bankrupts by very important dimonitisation. Most of BJP members were in Congress party. After quitting congtess they all became mr Cleans. However this govt and its mouth pieces are hammering the resource prone congress party, even trying to make other parties bankrupts if they do not join or merge. BJP.can.today buy any body.
                    Reply
                    1. K
                      K SHESHU
                      Mar 17, 2017 at 1:53 pm
                      All losers only raise the issue ...even subrahmnya swamy and gvl ....now they are rulers ...next time when they lose, they will rause the issue ..
                      Reply
                      1. Z
                        zizek
                        Mar 17, 2017 at 5:05 am
                        Going by this trend, in future they may even demand that Modi should not be fielded as the PM candidate because he is responsible for their defeat! Lol. Seems like they are really paying attention to the logic of Gurmehar -- people did not defeat them, EVMs did!
                        Reply
                        1. A
                          ak dev
                          Mar 17, 2017 at 11:10 pm
                          AAPees are so stupid that even explaining them is difficult. Nothing seems to go into their heads. Keju has created a battalion of stupid people.
                          Reply
                          1. A
                            ak dev
                            Mar 17, 2017 at 11:03 pm
                            Go and caste your vote in stan. People like you doesn't deserve to live in India.
                            Reply
                            1. A
                              ak dev
                              Mar 17, 2017 at 1:30 am
                              Ordinary citizen having doubts about EVM is understandable. However, an IIT educated engineer and a chief minister making the allegations is a pure political gimmickry. In fact it's an attempt at undermining the EC's credibility. EC should file a defamation case against those who continue throwing allegations even after clear explanation from EC and SC rulings on EVMs.
                              Reply
                              1. A
                                ak dev
                                Mar 17, 2017 at 11:45 am
                                The only course of action for Kejri wal is now to prove his allegations of tempering the EVM. He has a lot of techi AAPees from Canada, USA and UK. He can use them to take this challenge with EC. However, if he doesn't take the challenge but continue to with his allegations, EC should file a defamation case against Kej riwal. He should not be allowed to throw false allegations on EC under his right of free speech.
                                Reply
                                1. A
                                  ak dev
                                  Mar 17, 2017 at 11:46 am
                                  You are an enemy of India.
                                  Reply
                                  1. S
                                    S, Venkataraman
                                    Mar 21, 2017 at 4:45 pm
                                    How will there be videographic evidence? Those capturing the booth call the nearest reporter to record the booth capturing? Or do they record it themselves and post it on the Youtube?
                                    Reply
                                    1. S
                                      S, Venkataraman
                                      Mar 17, 2017 at 8:32 am
                                      What does a student who repeatedly fails in an exam do? Go pray to god, go to tantrik and get a taveez or any other supersious thing that comes to his/her mind. This is what is happening. The parties that lost are so badly demoralised that they are clutching at straws.
                                      Reply
                                      1. M
                                        Moloy Aich
                                        Mar 17, 2017 at 2:54 pm
                                        All this ruckus about EVM is stupidity. Losing parties are prone to such alibi. lt;br/gt; UP had, anyway, decided to discard Castiest and Communal SP Alliance and BSP. Same way AAP had been rejected in Punjab even before elections.
                                        Reply
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                                          ashok s
                                          Mar 17, 2017 at 3:14 am
                                          Netizens should vote by shouting ,as its done in Parliament
                                          Reply
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                                            Bud Mbb
                                            Mar 17, 2017 at 12:00 pm
                                            I didn't say paper ballot. Rather I said paper trail that enables verification of any and every single EVM that has been used in vote recording.
                                            Reply
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