Electronic Voting Machine (EVM): A Vote in Favour of Politics or Democracy?

By | December 10, 2017
EVM - Legal Bites

Introduction

The very idea of democracy is based on trust and belief in the fairness of the electoral process. Holding free, fair, and fast elections is a cornerstone of democracy and is guaranteed by the Constitution. Due to problems faced by paper ballot, like, transporting them and guarding, capturing of ballot boxes, etc. it led to the introduction of EVM.

The introduction of EVMs was done by due process of consultation and the constitutional amendment in the 1980s and ’90s and was a step in the right direction to further strengthen the democratic process in India. There are fears especially in the context of majoritarian governments, which has subverted all the major institutions.

What is EVM?

EVM or Electronic Voting Machines are used to cast vote without revealing your identity. It is used in Indian General and State Elections. It has replaced the paper ballots in local, state and general (parliamentary) elections in India.

When were EVMs first used in elections?

The use of EVM started back in 1982 Kerala Assembly elections. Prior to this only ballot papers and ballot boxes were allowed.

How does the machine work?

EVM has two parts, it consists of a ‘control unit’ and a ‘balloting unit’, connected by a 5-meter cable. The control unit is with the Election Commission-appointed polling officer; the balloting unit is in the voting compartment into which the voter enters to cast the vote in secret by pressing the button against the name and symbol of the candidate of her choice. The control unit is the EVM’s ‘brain’ — the balloting unit is turned on only after the polling officer presses the ‘Ballot’ button on it.

Background of EVM

With a view to overcoming certain problems associated with the use of ballot papers and taking advantage of the 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 the 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 a 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 technical 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 the computer technology and a national pride”. Both the Karnataka High Court and the Madras High Court observed that use of EVMs in the 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 the 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.

Comparison of ECI-EVMs  v/s  Foreign Countries

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 Standalone Machines. 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.

Importance of EVMs

  1. Led to a significant decline in electoral fraud, particularly in politically sensitive States such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
  2. In several constituencies, polling booths were routinely captured under the paper ballot system and ballot boxes were stuffed. Introducing EVMs transformed this.
  3. Led to a significant increase in the provision of electricity, particularly in States that were more prone to electoral violence.
  4. A very strong link between luminosity and growth rate, suggesting that EVMs contribute to development.
  5. The civil society and NGOs that monitor elections found that EVMs empowered those from the weaker sections of society who were victims of political or electoral violence.
  6. In particular, women, lower castes, and those less educated were more likely to participate in the electoral process when EVMs were used.

Is there a case for a relook at EVMs?

1) Yes.

Reason: in order to restore public confidence, it is really important to go back to paper ballots, if the case continues. Following election results, reports of malfunctioning EVMs is a lot in the picture.

The UP Case

The outcome of the recent Uttar Pradesh civic polls suggests that tampering could be happening. There exists no conclusive proof of EVM tampering, but the results do raise questions and doubts about a decisive victory. The point was raised that the BJP had won more in places where there were EVMs and lost more in places where paper ballots were used. This fear seems to be enough for us to move to paper ballots. There are fears especially in the context of majoritarian governments, and especially with regard to this government which has subverted all the major institutions. Hindu dec8, 2017

2) No

Reason: It would be a retrograde step to roll back EVMs and also we must not lower our guard. Introduction of EVMs by due process of consultation and the constitutional amendment in the 1980s and ’90s was a step in the right direction to further strengthen the democratic process in India, which is by far the largest democracy in the world with more than 800 million voters. Hence, it won’t be a sound decision to consider substituting EVMs with paper ballots.

3) It’s complicated.

Reason: we must remain skeptical and accept the reality that the EVMs is far from settled. The issue of credibility of EVMs has become quite complicated, with Mayawati, Arvind Kejriwal, and leaders from the Samajwadi Party and the Congress raising serious objections about the functioning of the machines. Some leaders have gone to the extent of saying that the machines are being tampered with in order to favor the ruling BJP. So, whether or not to have a relook at the EVMs would be a very early call to take.

Controversy about EVM and BJP

1) The controversy erupted was around the ability of political parties to rig elections by tampering with electronic voting machines (EVMs)

2) Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati had alleged that the voting machines used in Assembly polls held in the state had been rigged by the BJP.

3) Later, Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party had made similar allegations about machines used in the Punjab polls conducted simultaneously.

4) Kejriwal as well as the Congress party sought an appointment with the CEC and demanded that the by-elections in Madhya Pradesh be conducted using ballot papers.

5) whereas on the other hand,  Mayawati’s demand for fresh elections was rejected.

6) also, this is not the first time that such a controversy has erupted. In April 2014, a similar incident was reported from Assam when a machine was found to be voting for the BJP no matter in whose favor the vote was cast.

7) now, the parties alleging BJPhave made sure that the ongoing Gujarat elections be held with great care and honesty and the EC have taken steps in the same direction.

As the matter has raised the eyebrows of the political party as well as the citizens at large, the results of this Gujarat elections will be considered as the real victory between the politics or the real democracy.

Why tampering of EVMs is impossible or very difficult?

  1. The deployment and transportation of EVMs are under proper security. It can be compared to that of RBI while transporting cash to the desired destination. Machines are sent directly from the factory to the district administration to avoid tampering.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. After completion of software design, testing and evaluation of the software are carried out by an independent testing group as per the software requirements specifications (SRS).
  6. The source code is never handed over to anyone outside the software group of PSUs.
  7. 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.
  8. During production in the factory, functional testing is done by production group as per the laid down Quality plan and performance test procedures.
  9. The software is so designed that it allows a voter to cast the vote only once.

Conclusion

It would be a great decision to let time decide whether the whole issue is the truth or just been played as the game of politics. Shifting from EVMs to paper balloting, just based on the allegations, that is made, won’t be a sound decision.

The Commission has a very crucial role to play and put in place an elaborate technical and administrative system of safeguards to ensure the error-free functioning of EVMs in elections. 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 tamper proof and fully satisfied with the integrity of electoral process using EVM and rest would be decided on presenting some evidence for the same.


– Sonika Choudhary

Content Writer @ Legal Bites


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