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Are EVMs tamper-proof?

Thursday, June 17, 2010
By Prashant Hamine

Controversy over the efficacy of the Electronic Voting Machine (EVMs) still on

Controversy over the efficacy of the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) does not seem to die down. Soon after the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, L.K. Advani had argued for a paper back-up for the EVMs. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Dr. Madhav Kinhalkar, who unsuccessfully contested the 2009 Assembly elections as an Independent candidate against Ashok Chavan from Bhokar constituency feels both the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections were ‘rigged’.

Three experts – Prof. J. Alex Halderman from University of Michigan, USA, Rop Gonggrijp, security researcher from Netherlands and Hari K. Prasad Vemuru of NetIndia, Hyderabad, claim to have busted the notion of EVMs being tamper-proof. However, the Election Commission of India (EC) maintains that the machines are tamper-proof.

Kinhalkar, however, feels otherwise, and has moved the Bombay High Court (HC).

Speaking to ADC, Prasad remarked, “Before or post-elections, all one needs to do is replace the micro-chip inside the machine. Does the EC ensure that all the EVMs to be used during elections are checked? These machines are picked up randomly at the local level. Once a manipulation is done, it is easy to fudge election results or by remote controlled device.’’

He further added, “One needs to have physical record for verification. EC has never allowed anyone to demonstrate how ethical tampering is done. The EC wants us to demonstrate tampering by just pressing the buttons of the EVMs. How can that be possible?’’

ECs chief electoral officer for Maharashtra, Debashish Chakrabarty stated, “Once a new micro-chip is installed in an EVM, then machine in question altogether becomes a new one. The issue has already been settled by the EC. It is an old issue.’’ The Supreme Court which had heard a petition filed by V.V. Rao of Hyderabad in 2009 had referred the matter to the EC. The EC dismissing the petition on March 29, 2010 had argued that Rao could not prove beyond doubt that the EVMs were not tamper-proof. It had also dismissed Rao’s plea for ‘Reverse Engineering’ (inserting micro-chips) on EVMs to prove that they could be tampered with.

Noted political author, Dr. Uday Nirgudkar, remarked, “I would like to personally see how these people claim to do it. Watching a video is one thing and seeing it in person is another. To me, our EVMs have been to a large extent tamper-proof.”

Dr. Kinhalkar, however, criticizes the EC for being far too stubborn in its stand on the tamperability of an EVM. “It is proven in the 2009 elections, which I lost. Check all the statements made by my rival before the elections. He actually has lost the election by a margin of 15,114 votes. They know what has happened is illegal and unconstitutional.’’

Kinhalkar added, “In 1989, the Representation of the People Act, 1951 was amended and provision was made for ballot paper back-up. The Supreme Court in 1982 has ruled in the matter of using EVMs. They are supposed to be used in areas where there is a law and order situation. For this the EC again has to give reasons for using EVMs in such areas. But since 2004, the EC has been using EVMs all over the country’’.

He further added, “What we are having are perfectly illegal governments – centre and state. The use of EVM all over is unconstitutional. Voter does not know whether his vote is safe and secure. As for the EC – if you are going to say a perfect lie, what can be done of it!’’

“The EC says the EVMs cannot be tampered with. These people are claiming that they can be tampered with. An inquiry by an independent body in both these claims is a must. If it comes out to be true, that EVMs cab be tampered with, democracy will be at stake. EC should be open to an independent inquiry and truth should be known to the public’’ remarked Lok Satta Movement, Maharashtra chapter founder, Surendra Srivastava.

State BJP spokesman, Madhav Bhandari, said, “The EC does not seem to understand that the machines can be at fault. The EC has conditioned itself that the EVMs are tamper proof and is unwilling to accept the other view. World over technologies undergo constant changes, while the EC does not keep itself abreast of new trends. Developed countries in the world have taken note of these vulnerabilities and taken adequate counter measures’’.

About EVMs

• Countries that use legally binding electronic voting machines:
Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, India, Japan, Kazakhstan, Peru, Russia, United States of America, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela

• In US different state’s use different models of EVMs such as, AccuVote TS, AccuVote TSx, iVotronic, AVC Advantage, AVC Edge, ES-S Optical Scan Model & many others

• US uses – Hart eSlate and ISG TopVoter machines for people with disabilities

• There are about 1.4 million EVMs used by EC in elections in India.



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