Are Electronic Voting Machines in India really vulnerable


There is an uproar among various political parties about the effectiveness of the Electronic Voting Machines. Many of them think that these machines can be reworked and the results modified. How far these allegations are true? In this article different aspects of the voting through EVMs are analyzed to find an answer to the question.

Introduction

All of you are aware of the Electronic Voting Machines or EVMs. For the past couple of years, this is widely used in our country during any election. The polling process through EVMs is hassle-free since polling is done with machines and takes much less time than the paper ballots. The counting of votes is also completed quickly within a short span. Many political parties in India have complained to the Election Commission (EC) and even pleaded before the Supreme Court to stop using EVMs. They think that EVMs can be tampered with very easily and the ruling party always use it to their advantage. It is true that many developed countries have stopped using this electronic method after giving it a try couple of times. There are reasons for it and we will look into many aspects to get a fair idea about the EVMs and the process involved. Let's begin with a brief history of using the machines in India.

History And Brief Overview Of EVMs In India

In India, the EVMs were used for the first time in 1982 in an assembly constituency in Kerala. Later, from the late nineties, they were used extensively during various elections. In 1999, the entire voting process for the state assembly elections in Goa was conducted through EVMs. From 2003 onwards, all elections are conducted by using Electronic Voting Machines. In the Lok Sabha elections of 2004, EVMs were used for the first time in all the parliamentary constituencies.

The simplicity of its design and usage has made the EVMs popular and since these machines are only battery operated they are used easily in remote places where there is a shortage of electricity. These machines are manufactured only in India by two Public Sector Undertakings namely, Bharat Electronics Ltd. (BEL) and Electronics Corporation of India Ltd. (ECIL). These machines have two units connected through cables. They are the Control unit & the Balloting unit. The Control unit remains under the strict control of the Presiding Officer of the booth and the Balloting unit is the one that we use to cast our votes. The Presiding Officer/Polling Officer activates the Balloting unit by pressing a button in the Control unit and after that, the vote is cast by the voter. After the vote is cast, the unit automatically gets locked and there is no chance for the voter to press the button again to cast a vote for the second time. After each use, the Balloting unit has to be activated through the Control unit and thus there is no chance of false voting. In addition to this, recently the VVPAT is attached to the EVMs, though they are a completely independent system, and used to verify the votes cast by the voters. The voters can verify from the slip printed and displayed by VVPAT to see whether the vote is cast in favour of the intended candidate.

Design Of EVMs

The internal design of the devices is very simple. The microchip-based EVMs is programmed and it can be programmed only once. They cannot be reprogrammed. Most interestingly, there is neither an operating system nor any option to connect a computer in these machines. These machines are mainly based upon complicated hardware design and firmware. Since there is no option to interface these machines with some other devices or network, it cannot be tampered with external means. It is designed under the strict supervision and guidelines of the Technical Experts Committee of the EC.

Use Of EVMs Around The World

Many developed and developing countries around the world have used electronic voting machines to elect their government. Some were successful at it and still continuing it but there are many who have discontinued the use of voting through electronic mode. Germany is not using these machines anymore because they found many shortcomings with those machines. Many European countries do not rely on these machines because these are prone to hacking. The USA also largely depends on the ballot papers, though EVMs are used at many places there. In many states of the USA, EVMs were used initially and later due to technical glitches and allegations of hacking their use was discontinued.

The Situation In India

The main difference between the machines used in India and various other European countries as well as the United States is its technology. The EVMs used in India are stand-alone and hardware and firmware oriented. They are used only for voting purpose. There is no operating system in these machines and no provision to interface the machines with a network or another computer. Whereas, the machines used in the USA and many European countries are mainly software based and has to be interfaced with the network during different stages of the voting procedure. They have their individual operating systems and have to be updated with the latest security patches. This complexity is more prone to attacks.

No technology in this world can be described as fool-proof and it is applicable to the EVMs used in India too. The vulnerabilities of these machines in India cannot be ruled out after considering the following points.

  • Though there is no option to interface these machines with other devices, the circuitry can be modified while manufacturing. The microchip in the devices is programmed, so the question of altering the programs in different machines can always remain.
  • The two companies that manufacture these machines are government owned. Every government in power influences the authorities under their control. This is applicable all over the world and India is no exception. If more manufacturers start manufacturing these machines, all of them can be compared and based on it more stringent measures can be applied.
  • The machines are tested by the competent authorities of the EC and the two companies that manufacture these machines. Other than these two there should be independent testing conducted by some other authorities to make it more reliable.


Conclusion

While after the judgement of the apex court to maintain the integrity of the polling process VVPAT is used widely with all the EVMs, the testing of the machines by independent authorities and publicise the reports will ensure greater transparency. The testing of the machines is done through mock votes in front of the officials and the candidates/agents. The parameters of testing have to be increased since every fault cannot be diagnosed at the time of testing through a single parameter. There will be aggrieved parties in a democratic setup and it's impossible to make everyone happy, but the Election Commission should ensure that the complete process and its effectiveness are not questioned by the stakeholders.


Article by Sankalan Bhattacharya
Sankalan "Life is easier when you enjoy what you do"

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Comments

Author: DR.N.V. Srinivasa Rao21 May 2019 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 6

A very good write up by the author explaining the EVMs in detail. Generally, electronic equipment performs or perish. But there is no chance of malfunctioning unless otherwise there is a big flaw in the design. In many places where accuracy is of primary importance, the electronic circuits without any interface with computer systems are designed. But the accuracy depends on the design and the manufacture of the equipment.

But, as mentioned by the author, no technology in the entire world is without a flaw. Same is the case with EVMs also. The third-party inspections might have been carried out for all these machines but what is the accuracy of performance is not known. These days anything can be manipulated if we have money and muscle power. So we can't rule out the chances of errors in EVMs also. But the question is how much is the percentage. If the accuracy of working is at six sigma level, there will not be any problem and this may not influence the outcome. But if it is higher then we may have to discard this system.

I personally feel it is better to go back to the original ballot paper method for the elections.

Author: Varghese21 May 2019 Member Level: Silver   Points : 5

A very detailed post about EVM's. Thanks for the information. As many parties are complaining about the tampering of the EVM's and as the post say that it is not based on software but hardware, Election Commission (EC) should conduct at least one or two mock tests at every booth before, between and at the end of voting to check and ensure the correctness of the EVM's. One representative of each party with the representative of the EC, Panchayat member and anyone from the crowd (who is present for voting) be taken to verify the trustworthiness of the EVM's. This can be kept or recorded (on paper and camera).

The only question that remains is that if the tampering of the machine can be done only during the manufacturing phase, who can be blamed? The ruling party or the opposition.

Some strict code and quality need to be maintained in order to maintain the accuracy and gain the faith of the voters.

Author: Sankalan Bhattacharya21 May 2019 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 5

Thank you for reading my article. Actually, the mock tests of the EVMs are done by the poll panel in front of the representatives of all the political parties participating in the election. There are a few procedures followed during the mock tests and a particular number of votes are cast on the machine to determine its effectiveness. Mock tests are done just for testing and tallying the votes in respect of the buttons on the machine. To ensure its effectiveness throughout the actual polling process more parameters may be included. During testing, the machines may be working fine but during the actual polling process it can behave in some other ways and for that reason, independent evaluation is required. Other than the manufactures, third parties should be involved for an independent evaluation of the machines to increase the confidence of the stakeholders.



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