Electronic Voting Machines : Today’s Talk on Editorials
Significance: The Election Commission of India has spoken of India’s EVM’s as infallible and perfect, yet similar electronic voting machines used around the world have been shown to suffer from serious security problems. An MLA of the AamAadmi Party, stood up in the Delhi Assembly and attempted to demonstrate how an electronic voting machine could be tampered with to produce vote-counts not in accordance with how the electorate may have cast its votes.
Details about Electronic Voting Machine: It is a machine which enables voter to cast his/her vote by pressing the blue button on the Balloting Unit against the candidate and symbol of his choice.EVMs manufactured in 1989-90 were used on experimental basis for the first time in 16 Assembly Constituencies in the States of Madhya Pradesh (5), Rajasthan (5) and NCT of Delhi (6) at the General Elections to the respective Legislative Assemblies held in November, 1998.
Advantages of using EVM:
- Economic Benefit: Printing of millions of ballot papers can be eliminated. Only one ballot paper is required for fixing on the Balloting Unit at each polling station instead of one ballot paper for each individual elector. This results in huge savings by way of cost of paper, printing, transportation, storage and distribution.
- Quicker process: Counting of votes in case of EVM is very quick as it is digitalised and the result can be declared within 2 to 3 hours as compared to 30-40 hours in case of paper ballots under the conventional system.
- Inclusive: The number of invalid votes can be reduced to zero unlike the ballot paper election cases. This is very significant considering the fact that there are cases where margins between the winners and second placed candidates are too small.
- Accurate Choices: EVM machine is voter friendly. Therefore, voters can easily choose their selection without the help of others and it makes it very accurate too. Rural and illiterate people had no difficulty in recording their votes.
- Compatible: EVMs are compatible even in complex cases as well. EVMs are even designed keeping in mind to conduct simultaneous elections for Parliament and State Legislative Assembly.
- Less susceptible to fraud choices: Voters will not be able to record more than one votes at a time in case of EVM.
Why EVMs come under scrutiny:
Developed countries like Netherlands have discontinues use of EVMs after finding that they are susceptible to hacking.The major points of concerns in EVM are:
- The EC doesn’t provide its EVMs for testing. The people who conducted independent review of ts EVMs in 2006 were not computer security experts.It causes loss of trust in the instrument that is used to shape up the world’s largest democracy.
- A vulnerability analysis of a genuine EVM in 2010 revealed that there were no cryptographic mechanisms encoded into the central processing unit (CPU) of the machine. This means that they can be incorporated with fraud mechanisms before being integrated with the machine.
- The EVMs used in local body polls are not purchased or handled by the EC but are by the state-level ECs. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) is one such body. It could mean that there are no standard operating procedure on the purchase of EVMs.
- There are as many flaws with the technology as there are with the processes the EC claims to use to secure the EVMs, the laws that create the sanctions for this security and, as always, with the people involved.
Election Commissions response:
- Election Commission has addressed the concern of hacking cases in developed countries. It says that EVMs in developed countries were used online unlike in India. EVMs developed in India generaly consists of a ‘Control Unit’ under the control of polling officer and ‘Balloting Unit’ where voters do the punching.
- Election Commission refutes the claims of tampering in EVM. They argue that programme in EVM is burnt into a one-time programmable chip which cannot be altered with. Also, ECI added additional security features like real time date and time stamping of every key pressed. Technical evaluations by ECI has revealed that external technological sources like Bluetooth or WiFi cannot modify the EVM output and recordings.
- Procedural manipulation is a major issue in EVM. However, ECI argues that EVMs have unique identity numbers which are cross checked against the EC database. Also, mock polls are recorded to ensure it works well and good.
Supreme Court on the issue: In a PIL filed by Subramanian Swamy in 2010 to prevent EVM fraud, Supreme Court asked the ECI to explore the possibility of introducing Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail. Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines are used during election process to verify that the vote polled by a voter goes to the correct candidate. VVPATs act as a second line of verification particularly and are particularly useful in the time when allegations around Electronic Voting Machines’ tampering crop up.