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EVMs Promote Fair Elections

 

Prof. Rajat Moona


Mumbai: March 23,2017

At the time of elections, doubts are raised by the losing candidates as to whether they were treated fairly by the voting machines or not. If a reason is to be identified for the loss by a candidate, an inanimate object is possibly the best one to hit as it cannot speak for itself.

 

A machine has no mind of its own. Unlike a human being, it does not know of any biases and can work tirelessly from morning to evening, day to night and on any day of the year without losing any efficiency as long as energy is provided.

 

Electronic voting machines are no different. Like any other machine, they exhibit the same behavior, days after days, hours after hours and minutes after minutes.

 

Are EVMs safe from tampering? Since 1989 when the machines were approved for use in elections, there have been more than 100 elections carried out through EVMs. Winners at an election have seen losing of some other elections and losers have seen winning. Over these many years, same people have raised doubts on the credibility of the machines at some point in time and yet on other times they ridiculed the idea of machines being incredible. There have been fictitious doubts raised by people. Several people, without having access to any machine, have published their videos on electronic media as to claim that the machines can be tampered. Some even made their own temperable machines to drive their point. The question is not whether one can make a temperable machine but whether the machines used in the elections can be tempered or not. If the claims were of credibility then the same set of people should have shown the real methods and not the fictitious ones. Surely at some point in time they would have been hired by the winning candidates to tamper the machine, if it was to be true.

 

So let us see what makes the Indian EVMs robust. First of all, there is no way to connect an EVM to Internet or to any other wireless communication device – whether mobile or something else. Therefore an invisible communication device cannot be connected. Even a simple science student is taught that a coupling antenna is needed for wireless communication. There is no antenna in the EVMs, period. That ensures that no communication can take place from outside of the EVMs.

 

Some people have accused that the malware can be inserted in the machine as it could be in the PCs. While PCs are general purpose systems, they connect to the Internet. One can see Emails, web and other such services which are all Internet-oriented. Hence it is not a fair comparison as there is no option of connectivity with Internet or wireless system. Further the EVMs do not have any operating system. They are embedded devices. It is like saying since the PCs can get a malware, so can your TV remote control since both are based on compute devices. Would one believe that a TV, or AC remote control or a digital clock can get a malware from Internet? So why doubt EVMs – just because it is used as a messenger to carry the mandate of people?

 

Doubts have been raised about certain hidden key strokes to alter the behavior of the EVMs. If so is the case, and if that is deployed on large scale, can it remain hidden after 20 years of continuous usage in more than 100 elections? A person who would be capable of doing so would be in large demand by all candidates who are likely to lose an election. It is ridiculous to even have such a doubt. However, just to quell such doubts, the election commission has established various processes of conducting mock polls, sealing the machines and ensuring that only machines certified by various political agents are used in elections. If the machines are tampered, what were these agents doing while certifying the machines? If such a key sequence were to exist, they have to be deployed at millions of polling booths. One would require at least a million trained volunteers – one for each polling booth – to carry out such manipulation. It is just infeasible to do so, and that too secretly.

 

The machines undergo a variety of tests – during manufacturing, during subsequent evaluations and during the conduct of elections. These tests are carried out by independent agencies who are not only authorized to do so but also competent to do so. While such tests are carried out, it is almost like monkey-on-a-keyboard test – try random key strokes and see the behavior anomaly. No behavioral anomalies are noticed at any point in time which only means that such an open secret – known to a million people – is still undetected.

 

The machine does not even know which key belongs to which candidate. During voting, the machine is enabled by the presiding officer and only one key can be pressed by a voter. Therefore, there is no possibility for a rogue voter to try out a sequence of keys.

 

The programs in the EVMs are programmable only once at the time of manufacturing of the chip. Hence such programs cannot be changed once the machines are in use. A program that biases one particular key is not possible since the keys for the parties and candidates are not known at the time of manufacturing and even later until the time of the election. 

 

Several petitions had been settled by various courts after listening to the arguments and counter arguments. Courts have univocally expressed their faith in the EVMs.

 

Though the confidence of the voter is very high on the EVMs, the election commission has taken further steps to add Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) in the EVMs. These are sealed printers with a viewing window and a sealed box underneath. When a voter cast the vote by press of a key, a printed slip is generated which can be seen in the viewing window and thereafter cut and deposited in the sealed box. The print cannot be handled by the voter. Each vote registered by the machine therefore has a corresponding print and the results on the machine can be verified by counting the slips. Many such VVPAT machines were used in the recently conducted elections. It is interesting to note that no candidate had asked for counting of these slips as per established procedures of the election commission. Does it not give enough credibility to the machines?

 

 

Dr Rajat Moona ,

Presently Director IIT , Bhillai & Former DG,  CDAC, Pune

and Member of Technical Expert Group on EVM of Election Commission of India .

 

 
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