Opposition tirade against EC undermines 11-layer 'technical security', 12-tier procedural safeguards, VVPAT, judgments upholding EVMs

Day-to-day working of almost every institution, from banking to school education, from mail service to transportation has witnessed a discernable shift in the last few decades. The shift prominently has been from 'manual to technology-driven solutions'. And the most important purpose behind this transformation was to make the functioning of these institutions more effective, error-proof and time-bound.

With the same intention of "overcoming certain problems associated with the use of ballot papers and taking advantage of the development of technology so that voters cast their votes correctly without any resultant ambiguity and removing the possibilities of invalid votes totally", the Election Commission of India (ECI) in December 1977 first mooted the idea of Electronic Voting Machine (EVM).

To effectuate this change (from ballot paper to EVM) a new Section 61A was inserted in Representation of the People Act, 1951(December 1988)that guided the election process in India empowering the Election Commission to use EVMs. The amended provision came into force on 15 March 1989.

Following this, the Election Commission released a statement in 2017: "Central Government appointed the Electoral Reforms Committee in January 1990 consisting of representatives of several recognized national and state political parties. The Electoral Reforms Committee further constituted a technical Expert Committee for the evaluation of the electronic voting machines. The Committee came to the conclusion that the electronic voting machine is a secure system. The expert committee, therefore, unanimously recommended in April 1990 the use of the electronic voting machines without further loss of time."

It was only after all these procedural deliberations that EVM was accepted and has been used since 2000. In close to two decades of its existence, EVM has been used in more than 110 elections, starting from state legislative Assemblies and four Lok Sabha elections (since 2009), including the current one.

It is true that any new technology usually brings in some amount of confusion and concerns. In many parts of rural India, people still refrain from using internet banking as they believe that 'hackers' might steal their money. Such concerns usually stem from a lack of knowledge about the said technology. But at the same time, it is also true that some amount of awareness can dispel these fears. But when technology is used as a ploy to buttress one's ill-founded claims then no amount of awareness can help.

 Opposition tirade against EC undermines 11-layer technical security, 12-tier procedural safeguards, VVPAT, judgments upholding EVMs

In close to two decades of its existence, EVM has been used in more than 110 elections, starting from state legislative Assemblies and four Lok Sabha elections (since 2009), including the current one.

This is what is happening with EVMs today.

Following the exit poll results for the Lok Sabha elections 2019, that were released on Sunday predicting huge win and clear cut majority for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), there has been a sudden surge in allegations of tampering and hijacking EVMs by the Opposition. However, these allegations seem nothing more than a ploy to defend their defeat, as forecast by exit polls, and shift the onus on EVMs and the Election Commission.

In 2017, in wake of Assembly elections of Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, Opposition parties of these states raised serious questions alleging that the EVMs were tampered with. Following which the Election Commission issued a detailed press note highlighting layers of security measures taken to make EVMs 'tamper proof'.

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The Election Commission also pointed out that full confidentiality is maintained in manufacturing of these EVMs as the software of EVMs is developed in-house by a selected group of engineers in BEL and ECIL — both government-owned Public Sector Units. However, the two bodies function independently. A select software development group of two to three engineers design the source code and this work is not sub-contracted.

A rigorous procedure is followed to ensure zero chances of any outside interface and this can be clearly understood by reading the point-to-point steps of developing EVMs.

It says, "Most of the systems used in other countries are computer-based with internet connectivity. Hence, these could be vulnerable to hacking. As stated above, the software in the ECI-EVM chip is one time programmable (OTP) and burnt into the chip at the time of manufacture. Nothing can be written on the chip after manufacture. Thus the ECI-EVMs are fundamentally different from the voting machines and processes adopted in various foreign countries".

ECI lists, at least, 12 layers of procedural and administrative securities to ensure that there can be no chance of manipulating the EVMs. Elaborating on procedural and administrative securities, the Election Commission further says: "Before every election, a first level checking (FLC) is done for every EVM to be used in the election by the engineers of the manufacturers in the presence of political parties' representatives. Any malfunctioning EVM is kept separately and is not used in the election. Also, manufacturers certify at the time of FLC that all components in the EVM are original. After this, the plastic cabinet of Control Unit of the EVM is sealed using a "Pink Paper Seal", which is signed by representatives of political parties and stored in strong rooms. After this, the plastic cabinet of control unit of the EVMs cannot be opened. There is no access to any component inside of EVMs."

ECI used VVPAT in Nagaland by-election in 2013. After the Supreme Court ordered the introduction of VVPAT in phases, the Election Commission proposed VVPAT be used at every polling station in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha Elections.

In the current Lok Sabha elections, following the Supreme Court decision on 7 May, the number of VVPAT slips was increased from one to five. However, the Supreme Court, in the same order, rejected Opposition parties' plea to increase it to 33 percent of total machines.

Finally, as rightly pointed out by the EC, the issue of "doubts being raised" regarding the credibility of EVMs were taken to several high courts and in all of it "after looking into all aspects of the technological soundness and the administrative measures involved in the use of EVMs at elections in India, have held that the EVMs in India are credible, reliable and totally tamperproof".

ECI also points out that "in some of these cases, even Supreme Court has dismissed appeals filed by some petitioners against High Court orders".

Despite 11 layers of 'technical security', 12 layers of procedural and administrative safeguards, VVPAT and number of judicial pronouncement made in favour of EVMs exist, opposition's continuous onslaught against the EVMs only shows its complete disregard for institutions like Election Commission.

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Updated Date: May 22, 2019 13:47:26 IST