Insights into Editorial: Credibility of Electronic Voting Machines

 

 


Insights into Editorial: Credibility of Electronic Voting Machines 


 

After declaration of result of the recently held General Elections to the State Legislative Assemblies of Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, some political parties have raised voice against the credibility of the ECI-EVMs, alleging tampering of EVMs during the said elections. However, the Election Commission has rejected these allegations.

Such concerns, about alleged tamperability of ECI-EVM have been raised earlier also since their introduction including before HC/SC. These allegations have been dismissed. ECI unequivocally reiterate that given effective technical and administrative safeguards, EVMs are not temperable and integrity of electoral process is preserved.

 

Background of EVM:

With a view to overcome certain problems associated with use of ballot papers and taking advantage of 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 in March, 1989.
  • Central Government appointed the Electoral Reforms Committee in January, 1990 consisting of representative of several recognized National and State Parties. The Electoral Reforms Committee further constituted a technical Expert Committee for the evaluation of the electronic voting machines. The Committee came to conclusion that the electronic voting machine is a secure system.  The expert committee, therefore, unanimously recommended in April, 1990 the use of the electronic voting machines without further loss of time.
  • Since 2000, EVMs have been used in 107 General Elections to State Legislative Assemblies and 3 General Elections to Lok Sabha held in 2004, 2009 & 2014.

 

Various observations made by the courts in this regard:

The issue of possible tampering of EVM has been raised before various High Courts since 2001. Various High Courts after going into all aspects of the technological soundness and the administrative measures involved in the use of EVMs at elections in India, have held that the EVMs in India are credible, reliable and totally tamperproof.  In some of these cases, even Supreme Court has dismissed appeals filed by some petitioners against High Court orders.

  • The High Court of Karnataka held that “This invention is undoubtedly a great achievement in the electronic and computer technology and a national pride”. Both the Karnataka High Court and the Madras High Court observed that use of EVMs in election has several advantages over the system of ballot paper/ballot box election.
  • The Madras High Court also categorically ruled out any question of tampering of the EVMs. It said, “There is also no question of introducing any virus or bugs for the reason that the EVMs cannot be compared to personal computers.  The programming in computers, as suggested, has no bearing with the EVMs.  The computer would have inherent limitations having connections through Internet and by their very design, they may allow the alteration of the programme but the EVMs are independent units and the programme in EVM is entirely a different system.”
  • It is admitted before various courts that the data or technique brought in use in EVM in India were not subject to piracy as nobody knows anything about the contents of any type or has any unauthorized or free access to EVM.

 

Why tampering of EVMs is impossible or very difficult?

  • The machine is electronically protected to prevent any tampering/manipulation. The programme (software) used in these machines is burnt into a One Time Programmable (OTP)/Masked chip so that it cannot be altered or tampered with. Further these machines are not networked either by wire or by wireless to any other machine or system. Therefore, there is no possibility of its data corruption.
  • The software of EVMs is developed in-house by a selected group of Engineers in BEL (Defense Ministry PSU) and ECIL (Atomic Energy Ministry’s PSU) independently from each other. A select software development group of 2-3 engineers designs the source code and this work is not sub-contracted.
  • After completion of software design, testing and evaluation of the software is carried out by an independent testing group as per the software requirements specifications (SRS). This ensures that the software has really been written as per the requirements laid down for its intended use only.
  • After successful completion of such evaluation, machine code of the source programme code is given to the micro controller manufacturer for writing in the micro controllers. From this machine code, the source code cannot be read. Source code is never handed over to anyone outside the software group of PSUs.
  • Micro controller manufacturer initially provides engineering samples to PSUs for evaluation. These samples are assembled into the EVM, evaluated and verified for functionality at great length. Bulk production clearance by PSU is given to micro controller manufacturer only after successful completion of this verification.
  • The source code for the EVM is stored under controlled conditions at all times. Checks and balances are in place to ensure that it is accessible to authorized personnel only.
  • During production in the factory, functional testing is done by production group as per the laid down Quality plan and performance test procedures.
  • The software is so designed that it allows a voter to cast the vote only once. The vote can be recorded by an elector from the ballot unit only after the Presiding Officer enables the ballot on the Control Unit. The machine does not receive any signal from outside at any time. The next vote can be recorded only after the Presiding Officer enables the ballot on the Control Unit. In between, the machine becomes dead to any signal from outside (except from the Control Unit).
  • Samples of EVMs from production batches are regularly checked for functionality by Quality Assurance Group, which is an independent unit within the PSUs.
  • Certain additional features were introduced in 2006 in ECI-EVMs such as dynamic coding between Ballot Unit (BU) and Control Unit (CU), installation of real time clock, installation of full display system and date and time stamping of every key-pressing in EVM.
  • Technical Evaluation Committee in 2006 has concluded that any tempering of CU by coded signals by wireless or outside or Bluetooth or WiFi is ruled out as CU does not have high frequency receiver and data decoder. CU accepts only specially encrypted and dynamically coded data from BU. Data from any outside source cannot be accepted by CU.

 

Uniqueness of ECI-EVMs:

Some political parties have stated that some foreign countries have stopped using EVMs. The Commission has come across comparisons between ECI-EVM and EVMs used by foreign countries. Such comparisons are both misplaced and misguided. ECI EVMs are Stand alone Machine. Therefore ECI-EVMs cannot be compared with machines of other countries.

  • Most of the systems used in other countries are Computer based with internet connectivity. Hence, these could be vulnerable to hacking.
  • As stated above, 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.
  • Any surmise based on foreign studies or operating system based EVMs used elsewhere would be completely erroneous. The ECI-EVMs cannot be compared with those EVMs.

 

What else has been put in place to prevent misuse of EVMs?

  • The Commission has put in place an elaborate administrative system of security measures and procedural checks-and-balances aimed at prevention of any possible misuse or procedural lapses. These safeguards are implemented by ECI transparently with the active and documented involvement of political parties, candidates and their representatives at every stage to build their confidence on efficacy and reliability of EVMs. These safeguards are:
  • Before every election, a first level checking (FLC) is done for every EVM to be used in the election by the engineers of the manufacturers in the presence of political parties’ representatives. Any malfunctioning EVM is kept separately and is not used in the election.
  • Manufacturers certify at the time of FLC that all components in the EVM are original. After this, the plastic cabinet of Control Unit of the EVM is sealed using a “Pink Paper Seal”, which is signed by representatives of political parties and stored in strong rooms. After this stage, the plastic cabinet of control unit of the EVMs cannot be opened. There is no access to any component of inside of EVMs.
  • Additionally, at the time of FLC, at least 1000 votes are cast by the representatives of political parties on 5%of EVMs randomly selected by them. A printout of the results of this mock poll as well as a sequential print out of every vote polled during the mock poll at the time of First Level Checking of EVMs are taken out for at least 5% of EVMs and shown to the representatives of political parties. Representatives of political parties are allowed to pick machines randomly for this purpose. In rest of the machines, numbers of votes polled during the mock poll are to the satisfaction of the representatives of political parties. Representatives of political parties are allowed to do mock poll themselves. It is all documented by DEOs/ROs.
  • Subsequently, stored EVMs are randomized by computer software twice once for allocation of machines to assembly constituencies and second to polling stations in the presence of candidates or their representatives before they are distributed for use in individual polling stations. Such lists of EVM containing serial number of EVM allocated to particular polling station are provided to the political parties/candidates.
  • Candidates and their representatives are allowed to conduct mock polls on EVMs at the time of candidate setting and also before the actual poll on the poll day to satisfy themselves about the satisfactory functioning of EVMs being used.
  • Once the candidate setting is done, the Ballot Unit of the EVM is also sealed with thread/Pink Paper seals so that nobody has access to the inside of the Ballot Unit too. These Pink seals also bear signatures of representatives of political parties/candidate.
  • On the poll day, a mock poll by casting at least 50 votes is conducted at every polling station in the presence of the representatives of the candidates/polling agents with their signature and a mock-poll certificate to that effect is obtained from every Presiding Officer.
  • After the mock poll is over, another thread seal and green paper seals are put on the EVM to block access to all buttons on the EVM, except those, which are used for the conduct of poll. These paper seals and thread seals are allowed to be signed by the polling agents. After the poll is over, the Presiding officer presses the “Close” button on the EVM in the presence of polling agents. Thereafter, no votes can be polled in the EVM.
  • After this, the entire EVM is sealed. Candidates and their agents are allowed to put their signatures on the seals, which they can check for the intactness of the seal before counting. Candidates/representatives travel behind vehicles carrying EVMs from polling stations to counting storage rooms.

 

Conclusion:

As explained above, the Commission has put in place an elaborate technical and administrative system of safeguards to ensure error-free functioning of EVMs in elections. The Commission says it is thus fully satisfied with the tamper proof functioning of the ECI-EVMs. The Commission has also offered opportunities more than once to those alleging the tamperability of EVM, no one has been able to demonstrate to the Commission that the EVM with ECI and used in the country’s election process, can be manipulated or tampered with. The Commission does not find any merit in such allegations and reject all such allegations and suspicions raised by some political parties. Therefore, ECI has assured all citizens that EVM of ECI are temper proof and fully satisfied with the integrity of electoral process using EVM.