EC's EVM 'Challenge' Ends up as Just Another Demonstration of the Machines

The two political parties which had earlier registered as 'challengers' refused to take part, saying they only wanted to understand the process.

New Delhi: With the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Nationalist Congress Party, the only two parties which had confirmed their participation for the EVM challenge opting to stay away from trying to hack the electronic voting machines under the rules and regulations of the Election Commission, the exercise ended up being another demonstration of the machines.

The EVM challenge was thrown open to seven national parties and 49 state parties on May 20. By the time the deadline expired at 5 pm on May 26, only two parties, the NCP and the CPI(M), had confirmed their participation for the EVM challenge, according to the Election Commission. The exercise was thought of as a means to address the doubts raised about the vulnerability of EVMs to hacking by as many as 13 political parties in March this year, following the announcement of results to the assembly elections of five states.

But when the day finally arrived for the CPI(M) and NCP to give hacking the EVMs a try, they opted not to. The Left party said it would not like to participate in the challenge, while the NCP too decided to opt out after its representative and MP Vandana Chavan, in a letter to the commission, said that she had sought ballot unit (BU) number, control unit (CU) number, memory number and battery number of the EVM at least four days in advance, but was only provided the BU and CU numbers.

In the letter, the NCP also objected to a “last minute” change whereby they were asked to select an EVM out of the 14 that were brought for the challenge. The party, which raised eight issues in all, insisted that the manner in which the municipal elections were conducted in Maharashtra had made them doubt the reliability of the EVMs.

The Election Commission, later in the day, released a detailed reply to Chavan’s letter which said it was not possible to provide the EVM memory number and battery numbers in advance “as these can be accessed only after opening the EVMs as the machines were brought in sealed from the EVM strong rooms at the district levels and as per the challenge framework, these can be accessed and opened only in the presence of the challenger.”

When the EVM challenge finally began at 10 am on Saturday (June 3), both the parties were, in the words of the chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi, “only interested in a detailed demonstration of the entire process by the Election Commission’s technical team.”

Following the exercise, he addressed a press conference in which he said, “the CPI(M) team expressed complete satisfaction and suggested that to allay any such doubts commission should hold such demonstrations and awareness sessions with technical community proactively”. He said NCP had treated the day’s proceedings as an “academic exercise”. Zaidi also insisted that with none of the parties being able to hack the EVMs under the specified conditions had once again been proved that the commission’s EVMs were “non-tamperable”.

Zaidi also reiterated that henceforth all the assembly and parliamentary elections will be held using voter verifiable paper audit trail  machines along with the EVMs for ensuring “purity and integrity” of the election process.