After weeks of intense attack from a section of political parties, the Election Commission of India has put the ball back in the court of the EVM naysayers.
In a mammoth over-two-hour-long press conference, the ECI said it refuses to fall for demands like the machines be given to the political parties, or be allowed to change the internal circuits.
Sanjay Singh of the AAP, reacting to the ECI’s conditions, said it was like tying somebody’s hands and feet and asking them to swim across the sea.
Challenge to parties
Refusing to call it a hackathon – “the ECI believes its EVM cannot be hacked – Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi said starting 3 June, all the state and national political parties who contested polls will be given a slot each to prove that the EVMs used in the five states that went for the Assembly elections in February and March were tampered with.
Zaidi also pointed out that while political parties and individuals have questioned the EVMs, no credible evidence or material have been provided to the ECI which points that the results of the elections were tampered with.
After repeated attacks from political parties questioning the credibility of the ECI, Zaidi seemed to be at pains to explain how this challenge was not a matter of winning or losing or a prestige issue for the ECI, “but an exercise to learn and see if processes can be further strengthened”.
Zaidi, sharing the details of the recent all-party meeting on the issue of EVMs, explained how a majority of the political parties were fine with the idea of using VVPAT machines; something, he said, the ECI was excited and encouraged about, and that going back to ballot boxes was not an option.
The ECI, after the meeting, had announced that VVPAT machines will be mandatorily used in all future elections, and that it was also mulling over the idea of counting a certain percentage of VVPAT slips in the counting process.
Announcing the details of the challenge, the CEC said that all political parties who were interested in taking part in the challenge could designate as many as three individuals, who would be given a slot of four hours to demonstrate that EVM can be tampered with. The group of individuals will be allowed to choose as many as four EVMs, from any four polling stations of their choice, out of which they will be given one EVM to demonstrate that the results could be altered, either before, or on the day of the polls, or after polling day. The representatives of the political parties could also go to the strong rooms where the EVMs are stored to give them a sense of the administrative and technical safeguards taken by the ECI.
Conditions for the challenge
However, there are some conditions for the challenge.
For example, political parties can only designate Indian nationals as their representatives. Zaidi also said the parties will be only allowed to visually inspect the EVMs when they want to demonstrate that the machine was tampered with before or on the day of the polls.
The ECI’s explanation for this is since the EVMs can be inspected by representatives of the political parties before the polls, the same procedures will be followed in the challenge. And because the machines are sealed after the polls, the parties will not be allowed visual inspection if they want to demonstrate the EVMs were tampered with after the polls.
AAP questions challenge
AAP, which has been at the forefront of the EVM debate, has raised questions on the ECI’s challenge.
Convenor Arvind Kejriwal, in a tweet, said the ECI had not provided the machines. Sanjay Singh, another senior leader of the party, went a step further and said when the ECI is not allowing one to touch EVMs, how can one hack them. He said he parties should be allowed to open the EVM to “know the game”, he said in a tweet.
The independent experts present in the interaction today, who form part of the ECI’s technical evaluation committee which vets the machines and the processes, however, pointed out that they will be allowed visual inspection, and that for any expert who knows the how these machines function, it is easy to figure out if they have been tampered with.
Earlier, in a sensational move, AAP MLA Saurabh Bharadwaj, in the Delhi Assembly, had tried to demonstrate how the EVM can be programmed to favour one political party. However, the ECI had disowned that machine, saying it was merely a lookalike.
CEC Zaidi said once you change the internal circuits of the machine, it doesn’t remain an ECI EVM. “It’s like saying that let us manufacture our own machine and introduce them,” Zaidi says.
Bharadwaj, in his demonstration in the Delhi Assembly, had shown how a particular series of buttons pushed on the ballot unit could activate a programme which would ensure that all votes on the machine went to one political party.
In the ECI’s challenge next month, in their four hour slot, political parties can either use a similar series of buttons on the control or the ballot unit, or use wireless or any wireless device – bluetooth, wi-fi, or a cell phone, or any other transmitter, to demonstrate that the machines can be programmed wirelessly.
The ECI chief, meanwhile also pointed out that the control unit, which activates the ballot unit, only allows one press to be recognised per vote, implying that even if one were to press more than one button, the machine would not recognise them. In such a scenario, the claims that a Trojan Horse could alter the results seem impossible. “Moreover, the chip is just one-time programmable,” he said.
He also said that the new generation EVMs, the M3, come equipped with tamper-detection and self-diagnostic technology, meaning if an attempt is made to open or change the circuit of the machine, it would automatically become inoperable.
Rubbishing claims that the ECI was using foreign manufactured machines, Zaidi explained how the machines were being manufactured by Bharat Electronics Limited and the Electronic Corporation of India Limited, two Public Sector Units.
The original incidents
Earlier, two incidents, the first in Bhind in Madhya Pradesh and the other one in Dholpur, Rajasthan, where initial reports suggested that pressing more than one button the EVM resulted in votes in favour of one party, the BJP, further added to the conspiracy theories about the EVMs. However, as Catch also reported after talking to individuals who were present at the spot, the machine was working fine and that four different presses got four different votes. Only the previous data had not been erased. The ECI, taking note of the violation of standard operating procedure, had moved the local officials pending an inquiry.
Another instance in the recently held Municipal elections in Mumbai where a candidate claimed that he got zero votes, something impossible, was also found to be false as an inquiry revealed that he got 44 votes. ECI, meanwhile, was quick to clarify that it was not responsible for the conduct of any local body elections, and that it was the job of the state election commissions, constitutional bodies in their own right.