EC to offer political parties chance to prove EVMs used in recent polls were hacked

PTI Devesh Kumar Pandey New Delhi | Updated on January 11, 2018

The Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi addresses the all-party meeting on EVMs in New Delhi on Friday. | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

An all-party meeting convened by the Election Commission of India primarily to discuss the reliability of the electronic voting machine (EVM) — an issue flagged by Opposition parties — got under way in New Delhi on Friday.

After a couple of days, the Commission will allow claimants to prove that EVMs can be tampered with. The date of the proposed challenge will be decided after the all-party meeting.

All the seven national and 35 of the 48 State recognised political parties are attending the meeting.

A detailed presentation on the EVM’s security features was made by Commission officials to prove that the machines are tamper-proof.

AAP protest

Days before the proposed meet, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) staged a ''demonstration'' in the Delhi Assembly on hacking a ‘voting machine’. The party used an ''EVM prototype'' for the demonstration. But the Commission trashed the AAP’s claim, saying the ''machine is a look-alike and not the ECI-EVM.''

Some parties have demanded they be allowed access to the machines used in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls.

Sixteen Opposition parties recently told the Commission that it should revert to the paper ballot system, claiming that the faith of people in the machines has “eroded”.

Several parties, including the AAP, the BSP and the Congress had blamed tampered machines for the BJP's victory in the recentl Assembly polls.

However, Akali leader Manjinder Singh Sirsa said, “EVMs are tamper-proof and that of the 37 cases filed so far, 30 have been decided in favour of machines. The Akalis have gracefully accepted the electoral defeat in Punjab, but the AAP has not.”

AAP MLA Saurabh Bhardwaj, who made the demonstration in the Delhi Assembly on “EVM tampering”, says the Commission has backed out from organising a ''hackathon”.

Any challenge of tampering with EVMs in a “controlled environment” does not serve the purpose of checking the machine’s security, he says.

Hackathon flawed

To this, a Commission official said using the term “hackathon” was flawed, as the machines used by them were standalone and not linked to the Internet. The challenge was to demonstrate how an EVM can be tampered with, given the EC-SOP in place to ensure secure handling of EVMs, the official added.

A representative of EVM manufacturer Bharat Electronics Limited says no further addition/sophistication of the machines is going to satisfy those who doubt the machines reasoning that even cash dispensed by ATMs is counted by many people as they did not have faith in that machine.

LJP leader Sanjay Saraf has accused AAP representatives of not showing any seriousness to clarify their doubts at the all-party meeting. “They were rather busy with their mobile phones. I have photographs to prove it,” he said.

BJP leader Bhupendra Yadav said the AAP did not give any demonstration on a real EVM (in the Delhi Assembly).

Vivek Tankha of the Congress said the electoral system should be trustworthy enough to satisfy the voters that their votes are going to the candidates of their choice. Longer display of VVPAT chits to voter can increase transparency.

On the issue of action against candidates facing charges, he said no arrest should be made without the Commission's nod in such cases. The Commission should ensure, transparency, verifiability and authenticity.

The AAP claimed that its demands for conditions in which demonstration of tampering should be allowed was rejected by the Commission. The Commission said only its EVMs, without changing components, would be given for demonstration, as the same machines are used in real-time during polls.

AIADMK Amma leader M. Thambidurai said his party’s late leader Jayalalithaa had also raised the issue of EVMs. With the introduction of VVPAT machines, voters could be satisfied about their choice. “We have requested that apart from EVM counting, the VVPAT slips should also be counted simultaneously for crosschecking.”

He also raised the issue of State funding of election candidates.

Trinamool lCongress eader Mukul Roy demanded reintroduction of paper ballot system.

DMDK representative G.S. Mani sought an independent impartial judicial inquiry by a retired Supreme Court Judge into the EVM issue. “Based on the findings, the EC can introduce further changes, if required. We have faith in the EC, but it is duty bound to remove doubts, if any,” he said.

DMK leader Tiruchi Siva said his party joined the EVM debate “to find out the truth”. “EC held a detailed presentation on how EVMs cannot be tampered with. We are satisfied. The VVPAT will ensure greater transparency. It is a fool-proof system, we accept it. The government has also released funds. The EC has assured that all the EVMs will be linked to VVPAT by September 2018,” he said adding that the DMK had principally agreed to the EC proposal for barring candidates against whom charges of bribery are framed, but Mr. Siva said certain loopholes must be plugged, such as possible misuse of authority State agencies. So we need to deploy officials from neighbouring States.”

V. Maitreyan of the AIADMK’s Panneerselvam camp said his group is convinced with the EVM security. “Now the VVPAT will also be used in 2019 general elections. The victors will celebrate and the loses will always complain and crib,” he said.

National Conference leader Devender Singh Rana said a copy of VVPAT slips should also be saved separately for counting and crosscheck, some parties have raised questions on EVM security and they need to be addressed, only the BJP has given unequivocal support to EVM and the present electoral process.

Besides EVM and VVPAT, disqualifying candidates named in a charge sheet for bribing voters, making electoral graft a non-bailable offence and easing of rules to order counting of votes through paper trail are some of the other issues the Election Commission will discuss with political parties.

(This news report was first published in The Hindu online edition)

Published on May 12, 2017

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