However, the machines that will be offered for the hackathon will be limited to those used in past elections.
New Delhi: Coming under intense attack and scrutiny from various political parties over its electronic voting machines (EVMs) to manipulation and tampering, the Election Commission on Friday, decided to address concerns by allowing the parties an opportunity to try and hack into the voting machines.
However, the ‘hackathon’ exercise, whose date is yet to be finalised, will be limited to EVMs used in the earlier elections.
The Election Commission announced the decision after an all-party meeting organised at Constitution Club on Friday. Representatives of all seven national parties and 35 of the 48 state recognised parties were present at the meeting.
Later in the evening, the Election Commission said the Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi had declared during the meeting that “the commission will hold a challenge and offer opportunity to political parties to demonstrate that EVMs used in the recently concluded assembly elections were tampered or that EVMs can be tampered even under the laid down technical and administrative safeguards.”
Zaidi also assured that voter verifiable paper audit trails (VVPAT) will be used in all future elections to the parliament and state assemblies. Also, he said, the VVPAT slips of a percentage of EVMs – still to be determined by ECI – will be counted.
In his inaugural address, the chief election commissioner also asserted that “baseless perceptions were generated” through allegations of EVM manipulation at Bhind and Dholpur during the recently concluded by-elections. He insisted that there was no case of biased vote results.
The meeting began with the Election Commission making a detailed presentation on security features of its EVMs.
It had decided to conduct the meeting to allay the concerns of various parties as they had made representations to it and also the President. In particular, the Bahujan Samaj Party, Aam Aadmi Party, Congress and Samajwadi Party had, following the announcement of results for the assembly elections in March this year, alleged that the EVMs were compromised and that votes being cast in favour of other parties were going to the BJP. However, the allegation had been leveled by AAP in the context of Punjab too where Congress came to power with a complete majority.
With concerns being raised by opposition parties repeatedly and the AAP even going to the extent of publicly trying to “hack” into a voting machine, all eyes were on the all-party meeting today to see how it would address the issue, in particular because the “aggrieved” parties were demanding a return to the paper ballots.
In fact, Atul Anjan of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) even suggested so at the meet. He said even developed countries like the United States use paper ballots because “the EVMs can be hacked”. He also demanded state funding of elections and greater transparency in political funding.
However, Nilotpal Basu of the CPI opposed the idea of a return to ballot papers but demanded that EVMs be subjected to independent checks. He said his party also urged that the VVPAT be matched with the at least 15% of the votes cast in each polling booth and the outcome be made known to all.
The Aam Aadmi Party, which tried to show that the voting machines could be tampered with i the Delhi assembly earlier this week, was represented at the meeting by Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia.
Sisodia later tweeted that EC has refused to conduct a hackathon saying “it would only give the challenge to prove that there was no tampering of the EVMs in the previous elections.”
Sisodia also said in the all-party meeting every leader said that they were against the use of money and muscle power in elections. “But then who are the people who use these powers?” he asked.
The BJP stood in favour of continuation of the EVMs. Its newly-elected legislator from Rajouri Garden, Manjinder Singh Sirsa, said out of the 37 cases pertaining to EVM tampering which have gone to court, in 30 the judgments have come and all of them have held the EVMs to be tamper-proof.
The Congress said it wants a “trustworthy system” and demanded that in the VVPAT more than seven seconds should be given to the voters to see who their vote went to. Its Rajya Sabha MP Vivek Tankha said the EC also needs to look at the system of political funding through electoral bonds, which had been proposed in the Budget, as it did not appear to be transparent.
The meeting also discussed proposals to make bribery a cognisable offence, allowing disqualification of candidates even before conviction in serious offences and easing rules to order counting of votes through the VVPAT machines, for which a big order had been placed with two PSUs – ECIL and BEL – by the EC last month. The Election Commission had earlier made it clear that EVM tampering would not be the only item on the table during the all-party meeting and other items will also be on the agenda.