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Election Commission’s EVM challenge – EC calls Indian EVMs ‘gold-standard’

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New Delhi: Election Commission of India in a press release said that it is globally acknowledged as a ”Gold Standard” in conduct of free and fair elections with integrity in India. It has set ever-higher standards of efficient, smooth and professional conduct of Elections and has been at the forefront of embracing, adopting and implementing the latest technological advancements in improving and fine-tuning the election processes and systems.

The Commission has taken the pioneering initiative of introducing Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) for recording, storing and counting of votes across the length and breadth of this country in a transparent, credible and secure manner, duly backed by appropriate legal support.

Over the last twenty years, the Commission has successfully conducted 107 State Legislative Assembly elections and 03 Lok Sabha elections using EVMs. Since September 2013, Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines have also been used in various State Assembly and Parliamentary constituencies for enhanced transparency and credibility in the voting process.

4. The introduction of EVMs in 90’s was a positive electoral reform by the Commission. Some doubts have been raised on the functioning of the EVMs from time to time and from some quarters.

5. After the announcement of the results of the five State Assembly Elections (UP, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur), in March 2017, again certain doubts have been raised on the functioning of EVMs. Some complaints and suggestions were received by Commission after declaration of results of five State Assembly elections. The Commission duly examined these complaints and asked for evidence and credible material information supporting the claims, but so far no evidence has been provided by complainants to ECI.

6. A group of thirteen political parties met the Commission on 10th April, 2017 and expressed certain reservations about the use of EVMs. Some political parties also raised queries about incidents relating to VVPATs used on 31/3/17 during demonstration (NOT in actual poll) at Bhind (M.P) and Dholpur (Rajasthan) Bye-elections held in the first week of April, 2017.

7. To understand the concerns of political parties, Commission convened an all-party meeting on 12th May. A press statement was also issued by ECI the same day to the following effects.

(i) The Commission stated before political parties that all future elections will be mandatorily held with VVPATs. The Commission firmly believes that use of VVPAT machines along with the EVMs in all polling stations, in all future elections, will bring utmost transparency and credibility in the EVM-based voting system. This will enable each voter to see for himself in VVPAT whether his or her vote has gone to the right candidate. After press of button on BU, name and symbol the concerned candidate will appear on the screen of VVPAT machine and paper slip bearing name and symbol will be dropped in a sealed box connected with VVPAT. These slips will serve as audit trial of the vote cast by voter on EVM. Audit trail will enhance confidence and trust of voters. Use of VVPATs with EVMs must conclusively put to rest all misinformed doubts and misgivings regarding EVMs. It will also be a matter of pride that India will become the first country to deploy 100% VVPATs or paper trail in the world, an element that was missing in many countries including Netherland, Germany and Ireland.

Funds for procuring the required VVPATs for 100% deployment have already been sanctioned and production is to begin in August, 2017 and will be completed by September, 2018.

(ii) It was also stated that the Commission has also taken into account suggestions made by various political parties regarding counting of VVPAT slips. The Commission will count VVPAT slips up to a definite percentage, which will be determined by the Commission. The ECI will shortly evolve an appropriate framework in this regard.

(iii) The Commission will hold a challenge and offer opportunity to political parties to demonstrate that EVMs used in the recently concluded Assembly elections were tampered or that EVMs can be tampered even under the laid down technical and administrative safeguards of ECI.

(iv) Commission also urged all parties to ensure their continuous and qualitative participation in all crucial steps during elections such as First Level Checking (FLC), randomisation of EVMs/VVPATs/polling personnel, EVM preparation and candidate setting, mock poll, EVM sealing and storage. The Commission also invited more suggestions from political parties on how to further increase their participation, so that absolute transparency is maintained at all times.

(v) Commission, further, urged political parties that improving integrity of election process is a shared responsibility of all the stake holders. We solicited their suggestions to fill up gaps, if any, during election and non election period. The Commission made it clear that ECI want total transparency and have nothing to hide from people and other stakeholders. Commission will always receive suggestions from its stakeholders for improvement of its processes.

(vi) The Commission also emphasised that Commission is committed and it maintains equidistance from all parties and groups. The Commission further emphasised that ECI has no favourites. Further, this equidistance by ECI has enhanced India’s reputation in the eyes of the global community.

8. The Commission has already issued detailed Press releases on Credibility of Electronic Voting Machines on 16th March, 2017, on alleged VVPAT incident during mock EVM demonstration on 31st March 2017 (and not in actual poll as alleged) at Bhind (Madhya Pradesh) on 07th April, 2017 and also regarding EVMs in Dholpur (Rajasthan) on 11th April, 2017. In Bhind, a wrong notion was created that for any key pressed on the Ballot Unit, only one symbol was printed by VVPAT. Commission’s thorough enquiry clearly established that during the EVM demo held on 31.03.2017 in DEOs office the 4 buttons were pressed during the demo and not the actual poll and every time the correct corresponding symbol was printed. A Status Paper on EVMs has also been circulated to all stakeholders on 12th May, 2017elaborating various aspects about EVMs and VVPATs for information and awareness. (All these documents are available on ECI website).

9. Certain complaints of alleged tampering of EVMs during the recently held Municipal elections in Maharashtra and elsewhere also generated wrong perception about EVMs of ECI. It was noted that confusion exists in the minds of many about the jurisdiction of ECI. We would like to clarify once again on this occasion that ECI is not responsible for the conduct of local body elections by the State Govts in the country and consequently about various protocols and procedures adopted by the concerned State Election Commissions. Election to local bodies, both urban and rural, are conducted by separate constitutional authorities State Election Commissions constituted by the State Govts. under Article 243 of the Constitution. Moreover, a particular complaint of some candidate receiving zero vote in Mumbai Municipal elections has been found to be totally false by SEC Maharashtra.

10. The Commission is confident and has firm conviction about the integrity, non-tamperability and credibility of the EVMs. The basis of confidence of the Commission flows from a wide range of technical and administrative protocols and procedural safeguards that protects our EVMs and VVPATs against any sort of tampering during manufacture, transportation, storage, polling and counting process. Still, the Commission is open to receiving from all stakeholders’ suggestions on how to further improve the integrity and credibility of our EVMs and VVPATs. The Commission will not allow even a shade of doubt about EVM operations.

11. The Commission would like to address some of the important issues that have been raised from time to time in past two months:

A.ECI- EVMs are not hackable as these, are stand alone machines and not connected to the internet and /or any other network at any point of time during polling. Hence, there is no chance of hacking.
The ECI-EVMs do not have any frequency receiver or data decoder for wireless and hence cannot receive any coded signal by wireless. Hence, no tampering can be carried out through external hardware Wireless, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth device. Moreover, machines are always in the custody of ECI and its election authorities.
B. Manipulation at manufacturing stage is ruled out as there is very stringent security protocol regarding the security of software. Further, the Machines have been manufactured in different years starting from 1989. After manufacturing, EVMs are sent by ECI to State and district within a State. The manufacturers are in no position to know several years ahead which candidate will be contesting from a particular constituency and what will be the sequence of the candidates on the BU and, therefore, cannot manipulate EVMs in a predetermined manner at manufacturing stage.
C.Results cannot be altered by activating a Trojan Horse through a sequence of key presses because
1. Trojan Horse cannot be inserted into the software code of ECI EVM burnt into the Microcontroller Chip since the chip is one time Programmable only.
2. The stringent security measures by ECI make it impossible to access the EVMs which is an essential prerequisite for attempting to change the Micro-controller for inserting a Trojan Horse.
3. Control Unit activates Ballot Unit for only one key press at a time. Any additional key pressed on the Ballot Unit is not sensed by the Control Unit making it impossible to send signals by pressing a sequence of keys or secret codes.
Once a ballot key is pressed in CU, the CU enables BU for registering the vote and waits for the key pressing in the BU. During this period, all keys in the CU become inactive till the entire sequence of casting of that vote is complete. Once any of the keys (candidates vote button) is pressed by a voter in BU, the BU transmits the key information to CU in dynamically encrypted form. The CU gets the data and acknowledges it by glowing the corresponding red LED lamps in BU. After the enabling of ballot in CU, only the ‘first key press’ is sensed and accepted by CU. After this, even if a voter keeps on pressing the other buttons, that is of no use as there will not be any communication between CU and BU of those subsequent key presses, nor will BU register any key press. To put it in other words, there can be only one valid key press (the first key press) for every ballot enabled using CU. Once a valid key press (voting process) is complete, until another ballot enabling key press is made there will not be any activity between the CU and the BU. Hence, sending of any malicious signal, by way of so called ‘sequenced key presses’, is impossible in the Electronic Voting Machines being used in the country.
D.ECI-EVMs cannot be Physically Tampered with nor their components be changed without anyone noticing. It is clarified that replacement of micro controller/chip and the motherboard in earlier generations of machines like M1 and M2 is ruled out due to robust administrative and technical safeguards. Further, the new M3 EVM produced after 2013 have additional features like Tamper Detection and Self Diagnostics. The tamper detection feature makes an EVM inoperative the moment anyone tries to open the machine. The Self diagnostic feature checks the EVM fully every time it is switched on. Any change in its hardware or software will be detected. Rs. 1900 Crore have already been sanctioned to the manufacturers for production of 13.95 Lakh BU and 9.30 Lakh CU of M3 generation. Also, 16.15 Lakh VVPATs are also under production and Rs. 3173 Crore have been sanctioned for the same.
E. The latest technological features make ECI-EVMs tamper proof. The ECI-EVMs use some of the most sophisticated technological features like one time programmable (OTP) microcontrollers, dynamic coding of key codes, date and time stamping of each and every key press, advanced encryption technology and EVM-tracking software to handle EVM logistics, among others to make the machine 100% tamper proof. In addition to these, new model M3 EVMs also have tamper detection and self-diagnostics as added features.OTP software implies that the programme in the EVM cannot be altered, re-written or re-read by anyone under safe custody of ECI. This makes EVM tamper proof. If anyone makes an unauthorized attempt, the machine will become in-operative.

F. Contrary to misinformation spread and alleged by some, ECI does not use any EVMs produced abroad. EVMs are produced indigenously by two PSU manufacturers viz. Bharat Electronics Ltd., Bengaluru and Electronics Corporation of India Ltd., Hyderabad. The Software Program Code is written in-house by these two companies and not outsourced and approved by TEC of ECI and subjected to strict security procedures at factory level to maintain the highest levels of integrity.

The software programme is converted into machine codeby manufacturers and only then given to the chip manufacturer abroad. (We don’t have the adequate capability of producing semi-conductor microchips within the country). Every microchip has an identification number embedded into memory and the producers have their digital signatures on them. So, the question of their replacement does not arise at all because microchips brought back to manufacturers are subjected to functional tests with regard to the software. Any attempt to replace microchip is detectable and can make EVM in-operative. Thus, both changing existing program and introducing new one are detectable making EVM in-operative because EVMs are tamper detect. Also the technological advancement now permits fusing of the software on the chip at BEL and ECIL itself and hence, in M3 the software is fused on the chip inside BEL and ECIL.

G. There are no possibilities of manipulation in EVM during transportation or at the place of storage.At the district headquarters, EVMs are kept in a double-lock system under appropriate security. Their safety is periodically checked. The election authorities do not open the strong room, and they only regularly check whether it’s fully protected and whether the lock is in proper condition or not. No Unauthorized person can get access to the EVMs at any point of time. During the non-election period, annual physical verification of all EVMs is done by DEOs and report sent to ECI. Further, strong rooms are always opened in the presence of representative of political parties.
H. There are different levels of checks and balances ensuring tamper proofing of ECI-EVMs which are as follows:
• First Level Checking: Authorized BEL/ECIL engineers certify originality of components after technical and physical examination of each EVM, which is undertaken in the presence of representatives of political parties. Defective EVMs are sent back to the factory. The FLC Hall is sanitized, entry is restricted and no camera, mobile phone or spy pen is allowed inside. The Mock Poll is conducted on EACH EVM by election officials in the presence of representatives of political parties.The Mock poll of at least 1000 votes is conducted on 5% EVMs selected randomly by representatives of political parties and the result shown to them. The entire process is video graphed.
• Candidate Setting: Yet another significant safeguard is the process of candidate setting, which is done after the finalization of contesting candidates. A ballot paper is inserted in the Ballot Unit, which is then sealed with Pink Paper Seal. BU is sealed at this stage. Where VVPATs are used, candidates’ symbols are loaded in each VVPAT at this stage. Once again, every EVM is subjected to mock poll and 5% EVMs are randomly picked up for 1000 mock poll.
• Randomization: EVMs are randomized twice while being allocated to an Assembly and then to a polling booth ruling out any fixed allocation. As you can appreciate, till first randomization no-one knows the sequence of names on the ballot paper till the finalization of list of contesting candidates, the names of contesting candidates are placed alphabetically on the ballot paper first for National and State Parties, followed by other Registered Parties, followed by independents and NOTA. Thus the Serial no. of any political party, candidate on the BU would be variable from constituency to constituency. It is therefore clear that serial no. of any political party candidate is not fixed or pre-determined in all the constituencies of the state. Hence, till candidate setting, none, not even RO or DEO or CEO or the Commission could know which button on which BU will be assigned to which candidate.
• Mock Poll of at least 50 votes at the polling station is also conducted in front of polling agents of candidates on the poll day, before poll begins.
• After Poll, EVMs are sealed and polling agents put their signature on the seal. Polling agents can travel up to strong room during transportation of polled EVMs from the polling station to the EVM Strong room.
• Strong Rooms: Candidates or their representatives can put their own seals on the strong rooms, where polled EVMs are stored after the poll and also camp in front of the strong room. These strong rooms are guarded 24×7 in multilayers, with CCTV facilities.
• Counting Centres: The polled EVMs are brought to the Counting Centres under security and in presence of candidates and Unique IDs of the seals, signature of polling agents on CU are shown to representatives of candidates before the start of counting.
12.Looking at the above series of fool-proof checks and balances that are undertaken by the ECI to make EVMs tamper proof, it is evident that neitherthe machines can be tampered-withnor they can leave the ECI-EVM system. Further, neither defective machines nor Non-ECI-EVM can get re-inducted/inducted into the polling process at any point of time. Non ECI-EVMs will get detected by the above process due to mismatch of BU & CU.
13. Some people argue that why have Developed Nations like the US and the European Union not adopted EVMs and some have even discontinued?

ECI EVMs are far superior to any EVMs worldwide. EVM, used in the Netherlands, Ireland and Germany were privately manufactured and had no independent certification system unlike a very robust verification and certification system through independent TEC or an ECI approved third party in case of ECI EVMs. Also, voting data in these NEDAP EVMs in the Netherlands was transferred using CDs, unlike our EVMs where it is stored internally and never transferred. Also these countries lacked full end to end administrative and security safeguards as well as legal framework. Finally their EVMs also lacked auditability.

A point is raised from time to time that several foreign countries have discontinued the use of voting machines and why India is using EVMs.

With the rapid advances in technology over the years, Election Management Bodies, professionals, experts, and activists (particularly Green Activists) have mooted the idea of using paperless electronic voting methods in different parts of the world in order to overcome the disadvantages of manual marking of paper ballots. The marriage between technology and election management goes back to at least 1892, when the first ‘lever voting machine’ was used in New York, after using the paper ballot for a long time. In the 1960s, punch-card machines were introduced in the USA, and the first EVM was introduced there in 1975. Electronic Voting has moved quite ahead since then.

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