Allegations of voter fraud is a never ending loop found almost during every election in India. While it is true that in a country as big as India, the electoral process could be a daunting task, and there might be a few flaws in the system. But are the flaws big enough that they affect the electoral process? Recently, General Assembly Elections were held in Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. After the results were declared, a few political parties including Aam Aadmi Party raised their voices against the credibility of the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). Today, Aam Aadmi Party provided a live demo in Delhi Assembly in an attempt to show how EVMs may have been hacked. Similar claims were made by some unauthenticated videos which showed how punching in a series of codes channel votes to make a candidate win without anyone noticing. However, the Election Commission of India refuted those claims, saying that tampering or manipulation is not possible since the programme or software, is burnt into a One Time Programmable or Masked Chip. It said that the EVMs are not networked either by wire or by wireless to any other machine or system, so there is no possibility of its data corruption.
The ECI has reiterated that effective technical and administrative safeguards have always been in place and EVMs are not temperable and integrity of the electoral process is preserved. Indians have been casting their votes by marking a paper ballot with a rubber stamp and it took a lot of time to count the number of votes and if there would have been any allegations of fraud it would take months to sort it out. With a view to overcome certain problems associated with the use of ballot papers and taking advantage of the development of technology so that voters cast their votes correctly without any resultant ambiguity and removing the possibilities of invalid votes totally, the Commission in December 1977 mooted the idea of EVM. The law was amended by the Parliament in December 1988 and a new section 61A was inserted in the Representation of the People Act, 1951 empowering the Commission to use voting machines. The amended provision came into force on March 15, 1989.
What are the previous cases in courts?
The issue of possible tampering of EVM has been raised before various High Courts since 2001 as mentioned below:
1. Madras High Court 2001
2. Delhi High Court 2004
3. Karnataka High Court 2004
4. Kerala High Court 2002
5. Bombay High Court (Nagpur Bench) 2004
However, EC said that all these HCs went into every aspect of the technological soundness and the administrative measures involved in the use of EVMs. They have held that the EVMs in India are credible, reliable and totally tamperproof. EC claimed that even Supreme Court has dismissed appeals filed by some petitioners against High Court orders.
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Election Commission challenge:
In an extraordinary measure, the EC in 2009, invited people who had expressed reservations about the EVM. They were asked to come and demonstrate the points made in their allegations. Those invited included political parties, petitioners before various courts and some individuals who had been writing to the Commission on this issue. According to a press release by the Commission, 100 EVMs were brought from ten states including, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. The machines were kept at the Commission’s office in readiness for scrutiny and for any application to establish its alleged fallibility. The EVMs were offered for such demonstration in the presence of a technical experts group as well as engineers representing the EVM manufacturers, BEL and ECIL. The outcome of this exercise was that nobody, who was given the opportunity, could actually demonstrate any tamper-ability of the ECI-EVMs. They either failed or chose not to demonstrate, according to EC.
The 2010 BBC news report came to light and was shared by many on social media. In a subsequent press note, the Election Commission disputed such findings, saying the ‘machine’ which they claimed was stolen and subjected to changes by the activists and thus it was no longer the ‘machine’ used by the EC.
How is EVM in India different from the ones used in foreign countries?
According to ECI,
(a) Most of the systems used in other countries are Computer based with internet connectivity. Hence, these could be vulnerable to hacking.
(b) The software in the ECI-EVM chip is one time programmable (OTP) and burnt into the chip at the time of manufacture. Nothing can be written on the chip after manufacture. Thus the ECI-EVMs are fundamentally different from the voting machines and processes adopted in various foreign countries.