EVM tampering row: Election Commission should be aggressive about dispelling doubts

The electronic voting machines can be rigged, theoretically, at least.

Every technology could be hacked into and tampered with but there has to be scientific proof to establish the vulnerability of voting machines, the Supreme Court said about a month ago while hearing a plea from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) on the issue. Worldwide, every complaint against EVMs has stuck to the basic argument that since computer chips control the machines and these are susceptible to manipulation, they cannot be fully trusted.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Different countries have responded differently to the question of trustworthiness of EVMs. Germany has done away with the use of machines altogether as have Netherlands, Ireland and Italy on the ground of transparency. Countries such as England and France have not embraced it despite pilot trials. In some other countries electronic voting is backed by paper ballots. Behind their action is the acknowledgement of the possibility, however remote, of rigging technology for desired result. Any such action amounts to fraud on the voter, hence unacceptable.

Representing the BSP as a lawyer in the top court, P Chidambaram, made the similar argument, maintaining there was no way the voter could ascertain his vote had gone to the right person. He implied that his votes could get channelised to another person or the party he represents. He was seeking rapid implementation of the Supreme Court judgment of 2013 where it sought introduction of Voter-Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) where the person concerned would be in no doubt about where his vote went. BJP leader GVL Narasimha Rao, who is also a psephologist, had raised the possibility of voting machines getting manipulated a few years ago.

When AAP legislator Saurabh Bhardwaj demonstrated in the Delhi Assembly that manipulation at the booth level was possible he was only raising an old doubt. According to him, and his party, the process is simple. The hacker presses the unique code that is the same as the voting machine’s software after he receives the bleep following voting and the machine stands rigged. All the votes following then go to one particular party. Bhardwaj has been mocked for his effort. Maybe justifiably so.

This could have been an act of desperation from a party trying to save face after repeated poor performances in polls or just a tactic to divert attention from the recent turmoil in the party. However, it’s a problem that needs to be resolved to everybody’s satisfaction. The AAP is not the only party that has raised it, the BSP and the Congress have done it too. Whatever their compulsion behind blaming the machines, the point is, it is the electoral process that finally gets a bad name.

The Election Commission on its part has clarified that the EVMs in Bhardwaj’s demonstration is a lookalike machine and not the type used in elections. Elaborate technical security features have been built into the commission’s machines and these are backed by strict administrative protocol to prevent any tampering. It had earlier clarified that the EVMs in India are different from those in use in foreign countries, especially on security parameters, and are tamper-proof. But as the controversy gets bigger it needs to much more.

The best way is to accept the challenge of the AAP and ask it to change the motherboard in 90 seconds to manipulate test voting and results. It should also find out any other loophole in the technical system which is criticised and needs to be plugged. It would not only settle the doubts over EVMs once for all, but also save the commission from unnecessary criticism. India has one of the world’s best conducted elections despite its geographical spread and vast population. This reputation should not be allowed to be sullied through motivated attacks.
When it’s elections, even the theoretical possibilities need to be dealt with.

Updated Date: May 10, 2017 19:50 PM

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