The “Tamper-Proof” EVM

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EVM The “Tamper-Proof” EVMElectronic Voting Machines aka “EVMs” is the buzz word these days in India, where the 2019 General Elections – the biggest democratic event the world has ever seen – are in progress. Scheduled from Thursday, Apr. 11th to Sunday, May 19th, 2019, the 2019 General Elections are to constitute the 17th Lok Sabha (House of the People) of the bicameral parliament in India.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) – sole autonomous authority in charge of administering and conducting the election process in India – is as always under immense pressure, both political and constitutional, with critics ridiculing it as nothing but a Paper Tiger – a threatening yet ineffectual body – which is only capable of issuing warnings. ECI’s poll guidelines are often ridiculed by leaders, who often, in a jiffy, blatantly mock them.

ECI, which first implemented EVMs in 1999 elections, lately has been increasingly employing EVMs, completely replacing the paper ballot in local, state, and general elections, to accelerate the voting process. But what’s more astounding and has always been, are the claims that ECI makes about these EVMs being “tamper-proof”. There’ve been numerous events and instances which question the transparency of these claims.

Not long ago, just past 2 general elections, in 2010, a group of US researchers from the University of Michigan claimed these machines to be easily hackable. Researchers, who hid a microprocessor Bluetooth chip inside the EVM, were able to change the result by sending a simple mobile text message. Later, a US-based Indian hacker, who goes by the name Syed Shuja and took asylum in the US, in a London press conference via Skype claimed that the EVMs are being compromised. Shuja, who claims to be a former employee at Electronic Corporations of India and an expert member of the team that designed the EVM machine, claimed the EVMs used in 2014 general elections were rigged.

Even the Delhi High Court, in a Jan. 2012 judgment, said the EVMs, which are increasingly becoming the backbone of the election process in India are “not tamper-proof”. Furthermore, in an Oct. 8th, 2013 verdict, the honorable Supreme Court of India, directed the ECI to implement VVPAT (Voter-verified paper audit trail) along with EVMs in a phased manner and asked ECI to achieve full completion by 2019.

The Indiresan (former Director of IIT-M) commission; the Subramanian Swamy Conference; the Hari K. Prasad, Rop Gonggrijp, and Alex Halderman led independent security analysis; all in some way question the EVM and its “tamper-proof” tag labeled by the ECI. But, in spite of all this melodrama, the ECI remains stern on its claim, the Elephant which cares not if the National Voting System crumbles, shattering the only piece – the fine line – that distinguishes a democracy from dictatorship.

The US, a much-advanced economy when compared to India still uses paper ballots and has never gone 100% EVM. The States – not like the Election Commission of India (ECI), which is a constitutional body – does not have a federal autonomous body that administers elections, instead, in the US, individual states appoint state level-authorities that administer the election process.

It’s high time the ECI, pitches in and grows some teeth, to tackle whimsical political leaders and their cronies, and put a complete rest to the ever-growing EVM hack suspicions. It’s not something that they can put a full-stop on, just by giving statements.

A hackable EVM is the destruction of democracy, in this growing world of electronic gadgets and devices, compromised EVMs is a question of national security. With increasing cyber attacks and unfriendly war-waging neighbors, ECI must take in all the help it can to come up with alternate options to replace EVMs and go back to the traditional paper ballot.