Controversy surroinding EVM machines remain alive     

By Yashwardhan Joshi

Can the electronic voting machines (EVMs) be tampered with and, thus, manipulated to win elections? The debate over the reliability of EVMs is far from settled.

The massive defeat of the opposition parties, especially Mayawati’s BSP, at the hands of the BJP in the recent Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, has once again brought the issue into the limelight. After Mayawati alleged that EVMs used in the UP polls were rigged by the BJP to manipulate the results, the losers found a good reason to justify their defeat.

And when AAP suffered a humiliating loss in the Delhi municipal polls, again at the hands of the BJP, its leader Arvind Kejriwal, true to his form, saw an opportunity in taking up the cause and went ballistic. He called a special session of the Delhi Assembly where its MLA Saurabh Bharadwaj gave a live demonstration of how an EVM can be hacked to display votes in favour of a particular candidate or party.

Only that the EVM was a lookalike EC machine assembled by Bharadwaj and his team.

The Election Commission was not impressed and said the machine was a different gadget designed and made to function in a tampered manner, and hence, has no relevance. ”Our EVMs are technically secured and function under an elaborate administrative and security protocol,” Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi said.

But that did not deter Delhi Deputy CM Manish Sisodia to claim that it was possible to hack an EVM in less than 90 seconds, and that given an opportunity 10 engineers associated with AAP will hack the EVMs of 12,000 polling booths of Delhi in just three hours.

The representatives of the political parties who attended the special session as invitees were also swayed by the live demonstration, and doubted the infallibility of the EC’s EVMs. At an all party meeting, convened by the EC, the BSP, Lalu Prasad’s RJD, Mamata Bannerjee’s Trinamool Congress and Tamil Nadu-based PMK demanded a return to the ballot paper system. The rest of the parties supported the use of EVMs. In his support of EVMs, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s JD (U) recalled the widespread rigging in Bihar in the times of ballot paper.  But like the rest, it also demanded EVMs with voter verifiable paper audit trails (VVPAT) and more scrutiny of election and post-election processes. The CPI (M) called for independent vetting of claims that machines were secure and tamper proof.

To quell doubts, the  Election Commission has decided to hold later this month a ‘challenge’  where political party representatives and technical experts will be given an opportunity over a week to 10 days to demonstrate how they can manipulate the EVMs used by the EC, including those used in the recently-concluded Assembly polls.

But one cannot take away politics out of political parties. Now there is a fight over the nomenclature of the ‘challenge’. AAP is insisting that it should be called ‘hackathon’ where it will demonstrate how an EVM can be hacked; the EC refuses to do so and would like to call it just an ‘EVM challenge’, maintaining that its stand alone machines with a one-time programmable chip cannot be hacked.

It has agreed to hold all future elections with voting machines attached with paper trails. It will evolve an appropriate framework for subjecting VVPAT slips of EVMs up to a certain percentage to counting. It was a demand made by AAP and other parties such as the CPI and the National Conference that 25 per cent of the total polling booths in a constituency be picked up and EVM counting results there be tallied with the VVPAT slips to check the accuracy of the EVMs.

There were some other demands as well such as more time for viewing the VVPAT slip before it falls into the printer box. Normally a voter gets only 7 seconds to view the VVPAT slip. This is a good suggestion which the Election Commission in its wisdom will go into. In its argument, AAP has said that the BJP had rigged the elections by tampering with the EVMs, but it has remained silent on how it won 67 of the 70 seats in Delhi polls.

In the meantime, what will happen at the ‘EVM challenge’ if AAP fails to hack into the EC’s EVM?

In that scenario, AAP has said it will humbly say sorry. That’s it. The matter will end there. But it won’t. The topic will keep on trending. Because the loser will then find fault with VVPAT There is no end to it. The matter will come to a successful end only when the loser acknowledges this fact: One should be graceful in defeat. 

Yashwardhan Joshi is a Journalist of long standing and commentator on issues of Administration and Social Issues.[IFS]

 

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