Raising the issue of ‘unreliability’ of the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), a united Opposition has threatened to approach the Supreme Court over the issue. The opposition parties also demanded 50 per cent verification of VVPAT slips. They also raised the issue of malfunctioning of EVM in Jammu-Kashmir and other parts of the country in the first phase of ongoing Lok Sabha elections. Claiming “Indian democracy at risk”, various accusations are made on EVM tampering, mostly by the trailing parties. A few months ago, an Indian hacker organised a press conference on foreign land to prove his point but he missed the point to enlighten you regarding the various safeguards taken by the Election Commission of India to ensure that they can’t be tampered with. The protection measures taken by the EC can be broadly categorised into various processes. There are three levels of checks and three mock polls prior to moving the machines to the polling stations. Meanwhile, the machine is always under a camera lens. Last minute polling with 100 votes before the actual polls is conducted and the defected machines are immediately replaced. The political party representatives are always there to witness or certify the whole process. Even after the Polls, a strong guarding of the machines during storing of the machines in the warehouses after elections is done with 24/7 CCTV facilities. Sealed EVMs are taken under heavy armed escorts under the vigilance of camera lenses. The CCTV surveillance supplements the three-tier armed securities. No single technical decision is taken without their consent, scrutiny, and approval. They follow a rigorous scrutiny process and are free to do a check of the EVMs at any time of the day. In India, the EVM machines are protected with high hand so the tampering is rare.
However, technically speaking, it is possible to ‘hack’ the current EVMs which were used in the recent elections. In order to hack it, we have to adopt some realities. To hack an EVM, one needs to have physical access to the Ballot Unit for enough time. If you have physical access and time is not an issue, then you can remove the original chip, put your own chip which fulfils your needs and Voila! You have hacked it. If you do not have physical access to it, you can at least manipulate it by wireless communication. Bluetooth and Internet can easily do it. Again, you can hack it physically if you have access to the programming ports of the Ballot Machine. You can just plug a wire in the programming port of the EVM connected to your computer and burn new code with it.
The Big Question is that can all of the above thing really happen?
The answer is NO.
Because the hackers will never have that much time at hand even if they get their own circuit ready. It will take more than 90 seconds to open, remove, and replace the ‘motherboard’ of the EVM. You will need to carry necessary tools to the Polling Booth which is highly impossible given the security checks. A tamper-proof feature has also been added in the EVMs which mean that if there is an attempt to physically open it, the machine will be useless and can’t be used further. Both the Ballot Unit and Control Unit are stand-alone devices. It means that they are not connected with any form of communication. A Ballot Unit will be able to communicate with the Control Unit only when they are connected to each other while counting of votes. There is no provision or scope of connecting it to the Internet or Bluetooth. The main microcontroller comes with a pre-burned program which cannot be replaced as it can be programmed only once. Also, to write an alternate program, hackers need to have a meticulous study of the circuit of the EVM so that we know which port of EVM is connected to what.
The Ballot Machine is essentially a counter which just counts how many times a particular button is pressed. When the button is pressed once in real time, the programmer has to make sure that it is read only once. So, to register one vote only, the Ballot machines freeze for some fixed time of few seconds. In those few seconds, if you press any button for any numbers of times, nothing will be registered.
When I say hacking is not possible, you may recollect the Dummy EVM which was ‘demonstrated’ in the Delhi Assembly by the AAP leaders. It was a homemade EVM whose code was written to cater to specific needs. It was essentially a mini-project of engineering college level. There were no security provisions attached to it for obvious reasons as he programmed it just to show how vulnerable the EVM is. The real EVMs come with a lot of security features. Some political parties even alleged that the machines are made abroad and the countries which manufacture them do not use it themselves as it can be tampered. This is also an ERRONEOUS interpretation. These are manufactured by Indian PSUs and we are in fact exporting it to various African and Asian countries. One should not undermine the Indian techies. Moreover, the Election Commission of India is a highly credible institution and it is respected on Global Level as well. It is shameful that a few people are trying to malign its image on trivial grounds. We are assuming all officials, manufacturing companies, government officials are innocent and EVMs’ tampering opportunity exists only outside this ambit. The company that builds these machines is highly skilled and it is their expertise domain where they might have kept ‘n’ number of secret doors which only they know.
We, the people of India, need to be more mature and should not get carried away with such rumour mongering and displayed ticks without having full-proof knowledge. Politics is always at its best in demeaning each other; we as voters should not lose faith in the democracy and its pillars.
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