Electronic Voting Machines
Snapshot
  • Kejriwal has concluded yet another showmanship, which at this time only proves his vulnerabilities rather than that of the EVMs.

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal used a dummy electronic voting machine (EVM) to demonstrate how EVMs can be rigged at a special session of the Delhi assembly today (9 May).

The Election Commission (EC) of India has pooh-poohed the hacking claims and said it will announce a date for a ‘hackathon’ after an all-party meet in Delhi on 12 May. All parties have been asked to send their representatives so they can challenge the integrity of an EVM.

AAP’s desperate exercise to blame its poll debacles on the EVM was spearheaded by Saurabh Bharadwaj, member of Legislative Assembly from Greater Kailash. Kejriwal, who is himself neck-deep in trouble with corruption allegations, found some time to divert public attention by a shocking display of how a manipulator posing as a voter could use simple codes to make a candidate of his choice win.

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#WeChallengeEC was the ‘expose’ Kejriwal had up his sleeve, with AAP joint secretary Akshay Marathe saying the EVM used in the demo was not a dummy. This is in direct contradiction of EC rules, though sources from the election watchdog have said it was a prototype.

The demo was carried out in the ‘safe confines’ of the assembly so that it enjoys immunity and does not attract any legal consequences.

"There are secret codes that can be used to decide on the day of voting which candidate can win," alleged Bharadwaj. He claimed that to rig a machine, "only the motherboard needs to be changed and that can be done in 90 seconds."

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Why Bharadwaj is wrong

1. Given the security at the polling booths, this is not possible. The booths are protected by policemen from both the state reserve police as well as the Central Reserve Police Force. Storage rooms are protected and monitored by closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras.

2. Votes are recorded only on the balloting unit (BU) and then transferred to the control unit (CU), where they are stored. The EC has clarified that once a vote is registered, the BU is automatically deactivated until the presiding officer activates it again for the next voter. Further, EVMs cannot accept more than five votes in one minute, which makes it nearly impossible to press a combination of buttons to manipulate it.

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3. Given that EVM programming is closed-source, it would be nearly impossible for anyone to replicate the electronic circuits (compatible with the CU). If there is any issue, the CU won’t accept the vote and a new BU will have to be introduced.

4. If the case was as simple as replacing the EVM motherboard, it would be simpler to replace the ballot box if we were to go back to ballot paper.

Bharadwaj further asked the EC to hand over EVMs that were set to be deputed to Gujarat for the upcoming assembly elections later this year, to his team for three hours, claiming that the Bharatiya Janata Party would not be able to win a single vote in that case.

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The high drama was dismissed as a diversionary tactic by suspended AAP legislator Kapil Mishra, who has accused Kejriwal of graft. He said AAP will next tell people there's a fault in their finger which causes it to press the wrong button.

Can anyone hack EVMs?

Data from EC’s website on the functioning of EVMs answer the basic questions. The EVMs that India uses are jointly manufactured by Bengaluru-based Bharat Electronics Limited and Hyderabad-based Electronics Corporation of India Limited.

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The basic design of the EVM is simple. It can record 3,840 votes, far greater than the maximum number of electors at a polling station, normally 1,500. A single EVM can support up to 16 candidates, and a total of four such EVMs can be connected to each other to support a maximum of 64 candidates per constituency.

The EVM consists of two separate units, the BU and the CU, which are connected by a five metre-long cable. Once a voter casts their vote using the BU, it is stored in the CU, thus ensuring that even if there is a malfunction, the BU can be replaced with a new one. An electoral officer covering 10 polling stations carries spare EVMs in such a scenario.

The CU’s main purpose is to turn on the BU so that a voter can cast their vote. Once the vote has been cast, it is automatically deactivated till the next voter is verified against the electoral rolls and the officer-in-charge activates it again.

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As explained earlier, the BU turns off automatically once a button is pressed. And only one button can be pressed. Therefore, pressing multiple buttons is not possible.

The EC on its website explains that the microchip used in EVMs is sealed at the time of import. It cannot be opened and no rewriting of the programme can be done once it is programmed and installed, ruling out any chance of manipulation.

Upholding the integrity of the EVM, the EC pointed out that the machines have been used in 107 elections to state assemblies since 2000 and also in the Lok Sabha elections of 2004, 2009 and 2014. The issue of EVM tampering has been brought up before several courts since 2001. This includes the High Courts of Madras (2001), Kerala, Delhi (2004) and Karnataka (2004). “These courts, after going into all aspects of the technological soundness and the administrative measures involved in the use of EVMs in elections here, have held that the EVMs in India are credible, reliable and totally tamper proof,” said EC.

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Kejriwal has concluded yet another showmanship, which at this time only proves his vulnerabilities rather than that of the EVMs.

Also Read:

How To Prevent Sore Losers From Blaming EVMs For Their Defeats

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Can You Really Hack EVMs?

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