Appeal to Political Parties to Reject EVM to Safeguard Electoral Process and Save Indian Democracy
After the results of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections were announced, political parties as well as several political commentators are trying to understand the social and political reasons leading to the 2019 verdict. These analyses have largely focussed on political and organisational limitations of the opposition compared to the RSS-BJP. While we recognise the urgent need to address these political and organisational challenges, it is equally important to recognise the threat to Indian democracy being posed by the use of EVMs. It is, indeed, the X factor, the one concern in Indian politics which we can ill afford to ignore in our fight to defend the idea of India.
During the 2019 Election, several startling facts regarding EVM have come into public domain. To begin with, let us look at a few of them.
Mismatch in EC Figures: There is a serious mismatch between the voter turnout/votes polled data on the EVM and the votes counted data on EVMs, both shared by the EC, in 373 constituencies which went to poll in the first four phases of Lok Sabha Elections 2019. (
). This citizens web portal has mapped this data after the third, fourth and sixth phases of the elections (
. Also watch this Video:
Storage and Safety of EVMS: Just days before Election result, several videos of EVMs being stored in illegal cars and shops and moved, surfaced on social media platforms. (
). These stories surfaced only after seven phases, that is May 19, 2019. Unfortunately, there was no vigilance maintained by the Opposition Parties nor even civil society after the first phase of elections were conducted on April 11, 2019.
In November 2018, the ECI had made public a SPO SOP (Standard Operating Procedure for Storage and Safety of EVM machines, a copy is available. The SOP matter is well stated and broadly represents the spirit of the protection mechanisms for EVMs. However, it is lacking in rigour in one respect.ach EVM machine is like a cash box. It must not be let out of the control, supervision and protection of the relevant authority from the moment it leaves a factory through its entire journeys to and from a polling booth up till the moment it is sent to be scrapped. Any interruption in the monitoring schedule leaves the EVM open for its chip to be removed and substituted by an agent that wishes to manipulate the machines voting output.
Therefore, the chain of supervision must not be only from the storage area to the polling booth and back. This transportation and storage chain has to be now managed electronically through digital means. This would require each EVM to be tagged with an identification barcode or equivalent and its every movement by out of a storage facility, on a transport vehicle, its lodging at a poll booth, its transport out of the poll booth, back on to a vehicle to a transit storage area, to the final storage room each of these events has to be clocked digitally with a time tag and a GPS tag.
If even for one leg of the chain i.e. from a transit storage to the final storage the journey is not digitally tracked, there is every opportunity for either the machine to the substituted or for a chip to be removed from the machine and replaced. To make this abundantly clear in the Election Commission of Indias notification dated November 13, 2018 in paras 2, 3 and 4 there is no specific mention relating to the transit movement of the EVMs. Just to be under lock-and-key in storage is not enough. It is the moment of transportation and relocation that offers the scope for tampering and no satisfactory response to this is available.
Missing and Replaced EVMs: A public interest litigation in Bombay High Court also points out that 20 lakh EVMs have gone missing from the possession of the EC! (
). The fact that EVMs are manufactured by the Electronics Corporation of India and Bharat Electronics, under the direct control of the Central Government, is a further cause of serious concern.
Malfunctioning of EVMS: 351 New EVMs malfunctioned in Gujarat on counting day and results did not show up on the screen, leading to the counting of VVPATs for these machines. If such a high number of new EVM machines can malfunction in one state alone, is it not important for the ECI to clear the air on their reliability ?
This Interview with a former CEC clarifies some and complicates other answers. He defends the EVMs but urges more transparency in VVPATs. We need to have a responsible study group looking at this with evidence. The PIL in the Bombay HC needs to be studied carefully.
EVM पर पूर्व चुनाव आयुक्त एस वाई कुरैशी का बड़ा खुलासा
There is an unimaginable scale of possibility of manipulation through EVM and if we restrict ourselves only to political and organisational factors behind the 2019 verdict, and if we ignore the EVM factor completely, we are sure to arrive at a wrong conclusion for course correction. Presently every opposition party is doing an introspection of its campaign and organisation. The reports of these meetings that have emerged in the public domain tell us that opposition parties are ONLY blaming factors within and amongst themselves (factionalism, inability to mobilise, wrong political strategies and slogans, etc.). This approach is partial and is likely to be self-defeating. This is not to say that introspection and self-criticism is not needed. It is simply to say that this it is NOT enough.
It is important to take into account the possible X factor, namely EVM tampering, to complete the analysis. If EVM is indeed a factor, then failure to recognise this would lead to serial mistakes in course correction strategies for the following reasons:
The very real possibility of EVM tampering endangers a crucial dimension of Indias democracy i.e. peoples right to free and fair voting. It is worse than open booth capturing because it would enjoy far greater legitimacy, as it would be invisible, technology-driven and could steal peoples mandate without being discovered.
If EVM tampering is a possible factor affecting the outcome, it is outside the control of the opposition parties but within the control of the party which is in power and which can have a de facto control over the Election Commission. Therefore addressing this factor requires special political planning and strategy.
Suppose the political and organisation strategy of Opposition parties is by and large correct, and it is the EVM that tilted the final balance towards their defeat, then non-recognition of EVM factor will push political parties to doubt their correct political/organisational strategies and push them in a wrong direction of course correction, leading to serial errors in future strategies.
The depth and scale of BJP victories in the Hindi heartland states and the total elimination of major opponents should raise alarm bells about the real possibility of EVM tampering. It was encouraging to see how opposition parties came together since last October to demand return to ballot papers or counting of all VVPAT slips. However, this was not pursued consistently and attempts were not made to build a mass campaign on the ground. It is now proved beyond doubt that the opposition strategy so far on EVMs of hesitant petitioning of a compromised EC or the Supreme Court without building mass struggle has failed miserably. The hesitation within opposition parties, driven by the fear that they would be perceived as already defeated if they talked about EVM tampering, should no longer deter them as they have already been so squarely routed. If there is the slightest chance that EVM tampering is in play, then no crucial election of significance might be won by the opposition even after they have correctly mended their other weaknesses. BJP may still allow for some sporadic and marginal victories to the opposition here and there, so that people and the opposition remain permanently confused about whether or not to question EVMs.
EVM tampering can manufacture a distorted political narrative, demoralise the opponents and derail united strategies. For example, even if we were to assume that BJP was a front runner in the recent polls, the EVM tampering may have guaranteed their victory with 100% surety. More significantly, if the EVM tampering helped BJP to expand its winning margin and push its vote share above 50%, then it has become a handy tool to make BJP appear invincible and fan despondency in the opposition camp, spawning the narrative that even a united opposition can never defeat BJP, as the latter’s vote share was anyway above 50%.
Here, it is important not to fall into the trap of blind ‘support’ vs ‘rejection’ of the possibility of EVM tampering. The point is that the Indian voter should not be asked to blindly trust machines and accept the ‘assurances’ of ‘experts’. Every voter, irrespective of their level of literacy, education, or expertise should be able to transparently verify, with their own eyes, that their vote that has gone into the box will be counted. This is the reason why paper ballots are preferred even in advanced countries where the best technology is cheaply available. The voter deserves to be completely convinced about the efficacy and legitimacy of the electoral process. This is paramount in a democracy.
Whether or not EVMs were tampered with in this particular election, the point is that any machine can be tampered with, and machines are only as trustworthy as the institution and individuals that control them. The credibility of the EC institution was at an all-time low in the 2019 Elections, with blatant bias, unanswered questions, patently false information, opaqueness and glaring unexplained errors marring the whole exercise of polling and counting. If the ECs credibility is under question, should we not assume that EVMs too might be tampered? Opposition parties need to take steps towards building public support for a return to paper ballots.
Possibilities of EVM Tampering
Let us look at some of the key arguments being offered in defence of EVMs. Let us ask ourselves: what is the nature of this defence? Is it being suggested that technically speaking EVMs can never be tampered? Or is it being suggested that tampering of EVMs would require the involvement of thousands of people and several institutions, which is highly unlikely? It is clear that EVMs can be compromised. There is no technological reason to prevent the tampering of EVMs. Yes, this would require a serious compromising of institutions and institutional mechanisms. In the given political climate in India, where we are witnessing the complete breakdown of several institutions, we are therefore left with little confidence that tampering could never have happened.
In particular, the track record of the ECI in the EVM controversy has been dubious, to say the least. In fact, the ECI itself has allowed for doubts regarding EVMs to creep in:
They have supplied patently false information in response to serious questions.
The regulations and safeguards that are supposed to prevent the tampering of EVMs have often been publicly flouted.
The ECI has said several times that the software used in EVMs is One Time Programmable (OTP), and thus cannot be rewritten and tampered with. The ECI has also consistently claimed that unlike machines in Europe for instance, EVMs in India are stand-alone devices unconnected to the Internet. This lack of internet connectively in the use of Indian EVMs has been highlighted time and again to suggest that EVMs cannot be hacked because they cannot be remotely controlled via the internet. We now know that these claims no longer stand up to strict scrutiny.
A response to a Right to Information (RTI) query tells us that the software in EVMs is not OTP and can indeed be rewritten (
). Similarly, it has been proved that remote access software can be (illegally) installed in EVM machines, thus enabling them to be manipulated via the internet by external agents (see for instance
which states that machines used in the 2016 US Presidential Elections were compromised).
In addition, EVM manufacturers and distributers admit that EVMs are not always GPS-tracked and transported under strict supervision. According to a recent RTI query, around 20 lakh EVM machines are effectively missing. In another RTI response, the ECI refuses to share the GPS data of trucks transporting EVMs. (refer to the detailed point above)
In 2010 senior members of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) raised serious concerns in a 200-page long book with a foreword by L K Advani asking if Indias democracy was at risk because of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs).
Some notes from the book :
Ethical hackers have time and again challenged the ECI, pointing out security flaws. But the ECIs response has been found wanting.
The hard coded software on the microchip, which is supposed to be one time programmable only is shared with the concerned companies by the ECI, opening up avenues for manipulation.
The microchip itself can be changed owing to physical access to EVMs.
When EVMs are tested by a technical team, only the logic and flow of logic is checked and not the microchip or the code itself. This opens up the possibility of flawed or compromised code.
A mixture of old and new EVMs are used. The new ones, like any electronic device have more advance security measures and the old ones may be vulnerable.
Given this backdrop, fears of mass EVM tampering or swapping refuse to wither away. During the 2017 assembly elections in Uttarakhand, serial numbers of some EVMs used during the polling process (and recorded in forms submitted by the ECIs Presiding Officers for the concerned booth) did not tally with the serial numbers in the EVMs used during counting (
). The Uttarakhand case has been pending in the HC for 2 years now, with no verdict.
In other words, some of the tall claims being put forward by the ECI have by now been completely debunked, thus leaving us with little trust in the ECI and its many assurances. We need to ask: WHY is the ECI (and the BJP) so reluctant to allow for 100% verification of EVM votes through VVPAT slips? Why are they so reluctant to address ANY of the concerns? What is the reason for this lack of transparency? Why are they constantly trotting out false pieces of information?
Botswana is witnessing strong political debates over use of EVMs imported from India. In response to several objections raised by the Opposition Botswana Congress Party (BCP) in the Botswana court, the independent election commission (IEC) in Botswana, over the past one year, has repeatedly requested the EC of India (ECI) to depose in Botswanas courts and demonstrate the infallibility of EVMs imported from India. The ECI has till now failed to comply and there are reports that faced with this challenge it is now planning to design an EVM for Botswana that is different from the one used in India!!!
Why is the ECI so reluctant to stand up before institutional scrutiny of its own EVMs in Botswana? In India, the ECI is arrogantly escaping from all questions and demanding that we unthinkingly trust its self-certification. And when institutions such as Botswanas IEC ask accountability from it, the ECI runs away.
Platitudes and Self-Certification Cannot Substitute Transparent Public Scrutiny
The fact of the matter is: platitudes, opaque expert opinions, and self-certifications by the ECI cannot assure credibility of the EVM-based electoral process. In a democracy, it is important that the voter trust the final verdict of the elections. The individual voter cannot be asked to unthinkingly trust the ECI and the EVM machine, even as serious concerns are raised. This situation is not sustainable in the democracy. Therefore, it is our collective responsibility to address this issue with the seriousness it requires.
We appeal to all political parties to urgently recognize the threats posed by the manipulations of EVM that compromise a free and fair election. We urge you to initiate immediate measures for public awareness regarding possible manipulation by EVM. We also request you to move forward to reject EVM and revert back to paper ballot, and if necessary to boycott election to press forward this demand. We must collectively intervene to safeguard our democracy and for transparency in the electoral process. .
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