EVM Challenge is on, but CPI(M), NCP the Only Parties to Participate

AAP stays away but sends another letter, Congress abstains while the BJP, CPI and RJD prefer to be observers.

New Delhi: The electronic voting machine challenge, which was announced by chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi on May 20 to address the concerns raised by various political parties, will go ahead as per schedule. However, the only parties to participate will be the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Nationalist Congress Party.

For the challenge, which is to take place from June 3, the Election Commission had invited all national and state parties which had contested assembly polls in the five states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Goa and Punjab earlier this year.

However, none of the major political parties have opted for the actual challenge.

As per the EC spokesperson, while 8 political parties had “sent response  to ECI till 5 p.m. today” (which was the deadline), only two of them, the CPI(M) and NCP, had expressed its interest in participating in the hackathon. In fact, with no party coming forward to express its intent to participate in the challenge till yesterday, May 25, at one point it appeared that the EC may have to call it off.

The NCP has also communicated to the commission that Vandana Hemant Chavan, Gaurav Jaiprakash Jachak and Yasinn Hussain Shaikh would be representing it. However, NCP left it to the EC to choose the EVMs for the exercise after which the commission has decided to get machines from Punjab, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. The NCP would be allowed time from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to prove that the EVMs can be tampered with.

The Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress, which had following the Assembly election results in March this year alleged that EVMs had been tampered so as to eject results favouring the BJP, have not applied for participating in the challenge. The EC said they “raised some issue but as per existing framework of challenge’’, they have “not expressed their interest in participating”.

As for three other parties – the CPI, Rashtriya Janata Dal and the BJP – it said they have “expressed their interest to observe” the challenge while All India NR Congress has written that it would not be participating.

The Election Commission had given the parties time till May 26 evening to confirm their participation. Zaidi had stated that “every political party will be allowed to choose a maximum of four EVMs from any four polling stations of the five states which had gone to polls to prove their contention within a period of four hours. However, EVMs involved in election petitions or those sealed on the orders of courts will not become a part of the challenge.”

AAP concerns over changing motherboard

The Election Commission had, however, clarified that the participants will not be allowed to change the chips of the EVMs or the motherboard, as had been demanded by Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. “As any person with common sense will be able to appreciate, a non-ECI EVM or an EVM with a different ‘internal circuit’ is simply a different machine or look alike of ECI EVM  hence can never be guaranteed by ECI to give correct results,” Zaidi had stated, giving reasons for refusing the demand. He had asserted that the challenge would only be allowed “within the ECI administrative safeguards”.

Following the Election Commission’s invite too, the Aam Aadmi Party had kept up with its insistence that it be allowed to change the motherboard of the EVMs.

Its national secretary Pankaj Gupta had written to the Election Commission to reconsider the terms set for the EVM challenge and to make it an open ‘hackathon’, in which any kind of tampering – as had also been demonstrated by AAP MLA Saurabh Bharadwaj in Delhi Assembly earlier this month – was allowed.

“We would like to strongly urge you to reconsider the terms of the EVM challenge. Please do not set any such rules and regulations and allow it to be an open hackathon where tampering of any kind can be demonstrated on the machine,” Gupta had demanded, stating that “this is not an issue related to just one party, it is a question of safeguarding democracy in this country. We urge you to take the right decision in the long-term interests if this nation.”

But, in its response, the Election Commission reiterated on May 25 that: “It is the considered view of the commission that allowing any change of the motherboard or internal circuit of the EVM is like saying that anyone should be permitted to manufacture a new machine and introduce new EVMs in the ECI system, which is implausible and irrational.”

While deciding not to participate in the challenge under the existing rules of the game, the AAP on Friday again accused the panel of “running away from a no-holds barred hackathon”. It sent another letter wondering why the “rules and regulations” were being imposed. “Hackers are invited to test the security of any system, using any tools available. Such ethical hacking is to help understand loopholes, so that they can be removed in the future,” it said.

Elaborating on the issue, Gupta again wrote: “You have said that tampering or replacing the motherboard of an EVM would mean that it is no longer the same device. (But) how would you know that the motherboards of the existing EC machines have not been replaced or tampered with.”

“If the machines look the same, behave the same till some codes activate the changed programming, then how do you know whether any tampering has taken place on the machines in your possession,” he asked.

The party also questioned why EC was “so scared” of giving it a machine to hack.

Note: The article was edited at 11:20 pm to add the fact of the CPI(M)’s participation too. The Election Commission stated that on rechecking the papers it has discovered that the CPI(M) had also expressed its willingness to participate in the challenge. So along with NCP, it too would get separate counters to take the challenge between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on June 3.