When the Opposition in India is questioning EVMs’ efficacy in the last Assembly polls, Russia wants India’s EVM technology for its 2018 Presidential election
In the aftermath of the landslide Uttar Pradesh elections victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), there has been a clamour of wild allegations by many Opposition parties including the Indian National Congress, Aam Aadmi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party that the electronic voting machines used by the Election Commission of India (ECI-EVM) were tampered and manipulated. A petition was also filed in the Supreme Court to which the apex court has asked the ECI to respond in July 2009 when the apex court (in contrast with the decision taken) had declined to entertain a public interest litigation (PIL) questioning the functioning of ECI-EVMs and had asked the petitioner to approach the ECI with his grievance. As many as 5 High Courts in the past have dealt with
similar complaints about tampering ability of ECI-EVMs but all have clearly opined that there is no credibility in such allegations. Finally the Delhi High Court, in a judgment in January 2012, laid to rest again all these allegations and supported the ECI move to introduce voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) in consultation with political parties at the earliest.
Pertinently, the ECI always entertained many complaints regarding EVMs and offered the complainants a chance to prove and demonstrate these allegations of EVM vulnerability but nobody has been able to do that, be it the technical experts or the political class. On the other hand, the ECI has continued its drive to explore avenues to further improve the working of the EVMs where it is possible. The recent implementation of the VVPATs in various elections is a clear indicator.
So why does the matter come up again and again? There are misconceptions that EVMs can be tampered and the memory chips doctored; that software can be programmed, so votes only go to a particular candidate after a certain sequence of polling and even that the votes stored in the EVMs can be erased due to erratic power supply or malfunctioning. Further, comparisons are made with a few countries that experimented with voting machines by using an operating system and also connecting to the internet there.
It is essential to note that EVMs in India manufactured only by two government undertakings, Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) and Electronic Corporation of India Ltd (ECIL), have been well conceived and designed. Apart from their technical reliability, there are regular procedural and
administrative security measures that have been put in place by ECI in the conduct of elections while using EVMs.
EVMs are stand-alone systems not connected to any network and having a control unit connected to a balloting unit. The control unit (CU) is with the polling official and the balloting unit (BU) is at the voting spot. Only one vote can be cast at a time after the polling official presses the ballot button at his unit. A dynamic specially encrypted code is maintained between the BU and CU and any tampering of CU is impossible by coded signals, wireless or Bluetooth as CU doesn’t have high frequency receiver and data decoder. The CU contains a micro-controller-integrated circuit and a non-volatile memory which stores the polled votes. The former is one-time programmable, and program codes are fused permanently during the manufacturing of the chip. This code cannot be changed even by the manufacturer thereafter. The memory does not require any battery backup and can store the polled data adequately. If an EVM goes out of order during polls, the votes polled in it will be safely stored in the memory and the replaced EVM will continue to take the votes of the remaining voters who had not cast their votes before. In the event a booth is captured, the number of votes that can be polled is only five per minute, as the machine does not allow mass polling, unlike ballot papers that can be stamped in huge numbers in or out of the venue as it had used to happen in the past in many areas.
We should consider the significant advantages that EVMs have brought into our electoral process. First, it is very easy to vote as compared with the ballot paper. In EVMs, the voter has to simply press the blue button and—as the light blinks and there’s a beep—he realises that his vote has been cast. Second, cost reduction in the form of savings on the cost of printing ballot papers,
transportation and storage is quite huge and is of great environmental advantage. Third, there is significant simplification of the electoral counting process, both in terms of the time saved and the cost incurred on the counting staff. Fourth, the possibility of invalid votes that was very common in the ballot paper system gets completely eliminated here.
Since the year 2000, EVMs have been successfully used in 107 elections to the State Legislative Assemblies and 3 general elections to the Lok Sabha. The system has clearly worked to the ECI and electoral ecosystem’s satisfaction; if major anomalies and systemic problems were observed over the last 2 decades, the political parties and citizen groups would have been up on their feet against the EVM-based voting system. Many nations have also introduced EVMs in the conduct of their elections with support from India and the two manufacturers BEL and ECIL. Let us also take credit from the fact that the largest democracy has offered to the world a tamper proof device that has made holding of elections more efficient and fair.
(The writer is a cyber security specialist and writes on issues of technology and security. He was former country head in India for General Dynamic)