In an attempt to put the controversies and allegations surrounding electronic voting machines (EVMs) to rest, the Election Commission (EC) on Sunday (April 2) categorically stated that “given the effective technical and administrative safeguards, EVMs are not tamperable and integrity of electoral process is fully preserved”.
On April 1, both the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) approached the EC with complaints regarding EVMs and voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) showing the votes being cast in favour of the BJP during a drill for the upcoming by-elections in the Bhind district of Madhya Pradesh. The EC came out strongly in defence of the EVMs while replying to a petition filed by AAP alleging EVM tampering during the recent assembly elections in Punjab.
EC secretary Arvind Anand, in a detailed reply to the AAP national secretary Pankaj Kumar Gupta, stated that “the allegation regarding tamper-ability of ECI-EVMs has already been considered by the commission and such allegations have been dismissed by the ECI and various high courts”. He also recalled how the EC had on March 16 defended the use of EVMs by issuing a statement to allay all apprehensions and doubts in the minds of the stakeholders.
As for the issue of alleged wrongdoing in the Punjab elections, the EC told AAP that “after declaration of result only alternative available to verify the data of votes cast is to file an election petition before the competent court i.e. high court concerned”. It also insisted that “no credible material has been brought to the knowledge of authorities” during and at the time of the various checks which are undertaken as part of the polling process to show alleged tampering of EVMs.
However, it used the petition to once again come clean on the issue of whether EVMs can be tampered with as has been alleged by several parties in the recent past – most noticeable by the Bahujan Samaj Party and AAP following the announcement of the assembly elections on March 11.
Every EVM subject to mock poll test
The EC said that every EVM used in an election is subjected to a mock poll test on three occasions in the presence of agents of political parties/contesting candidates. “Wherever VVPATs are used, the electronic result of control unit is tallied with the paper count of VVPAT in the mock poll before starting actual poll.”
Comparison between Indian and foreign EVMs “misplaced and misguided”
Since AAP had raised the issue of some foreign countries having stopped using EVMs, the commission noted that the comparisons between ECI-EVM and EVMs used by foreign countries was both “misplaced and misguided”. It said that the commission’s EVMs were stand-alone machines and therefore could not be compared with those of other countries.
Elaborating on the reasons, the EC said that “most of the systems used in other countries are computer-based and controlled with internet connectivity” and therefore “vulnerable to hacking”. It further said that “the software in the ECI-EVM chip” on the other hand “is one time programmable (orp) and burnt into the chip at the time of manufacture. Nothing can be written on the chip after manufacture.”
Doubts of EVM tampering addressed in the past
The EC said it had in 2009 invited political parties and petitioners to demonstrate on 100 EVMs, brought from different states, how the machines could not be tampered with. “The EVMs were offered for such demonstration in the presence of a technical experts group as well as engineers representing the EVM manufacturers, BEL and ECIL. The outcome of this exercise is that none of the persons, who were given the opportunity and who had brought with them some technical experts, could actually demonstrate any temperability of the ECI-EVMs,” the EC said.
Financial constraints to VVPAT use
Referring to AAP’s letter in which it stated that “all political parties, irrespective of their ideology, have expressed satisfaction in the EVM as a mechanism to conduct elections,” but had called upon the commission to consider introducing VVPAT “for further transparency and verifiability in the polling process”, the EC said it was committed to deploying VVPATs in a phased manner given the financial constraints expressed by the central government and the production capacity of the two manufacturing companies.
The commission also took offence to AAP stating that the Supreme Court had cast aspersions or expressed any doubt that the election process was rigged through the use of EVMs. It said the apex court had never made any such observation or cast such aspersions. “The commission strongly objects to this wrong and imaginary extrapolation of Supreme Court’s order. This may please be noted as a responsible political party.”
‘Technical safeguards in place for EVMs’
In response to AAP questioning whether the EVM software had been compromised to result in votes being cast in favour of BJP even when the ballot button for a different party was pressed, the commission enumerated several technical safeguards that have been put in place to ensure error-free functioning of EVMs in elections.
According to the commission, the software used in the machines is “burnt into a one time programmable/masked chip” to avoid alteration or tampering. The EVMs are also not networked to any other machine or system, negating the possibility of its data corruption.
The machine software is developed in-house and a select group of engineers designs the source code, the work for which is not sub-contracted. The testing and evaluation of the software is carried out by an independent testing group to ensures that the “software has been written as per the requirements laid down for its intended use.”
The machine code of the source programme code is given to the micro controller manufacturer for writing in the micro controllers. From this machine code, the source code – which is “stored under controlled conditions” – cannot be read.
During the production process, functional testing is done as per the quality plan and performance test procedures.
It further stated that the software has been designed in a way that a vote can be cast by a voter only once and can be recorded “only after the presiding officer enables the ballot on the control unit.” At no point does the machine receive signals from the outside. Between then to when the next vote is cast, the machine becomes dead to any signal from outside except, except from the control unit.
In 2006, a Technical Evaluation Committee ruled out the possibility of tampering of control unit by “coded signals” since it “does not have a high frequency receiver and data decoder.”
‘Procedural and administrative security measures’
The EC further stated that an administrative system of security measures and procedural checks-and-balances were also in place to prevent any possible misuse or procedural lapses. “These safeguards are implemented by ECI transparently with the active and documented involvement of political parties, candidates and their representatives at every stage to build their confidence on efficacy and reliability of EVMs,” it said.
The representatives of candidates and all political parties are given ample opportunity to actively participate in a first level check, preparation of EVMs before poll, mock polls, etc.
Before every election, a first level check is done on each EVM in the presence of representatives of political parties, and any malfunctioning EVM is separated and not used in the election. During this process, at least 1,000 votes are cast by the representatives on 5% of machines randomly selected by them.
The plastic cabinet of the control unit of the machine and the ballot unit of the EVM sealed using a “pink paper seal” which is signed by representatives of political parties and stored.
The stored EVMs are then twice “randomised by computer software” – once for allocation of machines to assembly constituencies and second to polling stations in the presence of candidates or their representatives before they are distributed for use in individual polling stations.
A mock poll is conducted at every polling station on the day of the election in the presence of the representatives of the candidates/polling agents, following which another thread and paper seal is put on the EVM to block access to all buttons on the machine except ones that are used for conducting the poll.
After the poll is over, the presiding officer presses the “close” button on the EVM in the presence of polling agents and the entire machine is sealed. Additionally, the storage rooms where the machines are stored are also sealed.
Thus, the EC letter stated that given the effective technical and administrative safeguards, EVMs are not tamperable and integrity of electoral process is fully preserved.