The Supreme Court of India significantly accepted the writ petition filed by the Janata Party President Subramanium Swamy challenging the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) which can be easily tampered. As a matter of fact, the EVMs deserve a detailed examination by the Supreme Court since a refined and upgraded device is needed for a free and fair election process in future. Realising its significance the Supreme Court has constituted a bench of senior judge like Ranjan Gogoi and P Sadashivam to carry out a straight investigation into the alleged system. Even the father of EVM-Japan has categorically reintroduced EVM in their various election processes providing the pre-condition that there must be a bank ATM like automatic slip coming out after the vote casting is successfully over.
Electronic voting machines (EVMs) were introduced in a limited way in Indian elections in 1982, and they have been in universal use since the general elections of 2004, when paper ballots were phased out completely. It is about time India reformed its voting system to ensure that the electoral verdicts reflect the true will of the people of the country.
The EVMs used in the election in India too are vulnerable to fraud and can easily be tampered. The EVM contains a simple computer, with a processor and memory to record votes. Fraud can be made tampering with the hardware. It has been demonstrated several times as to how criminals could tamper with EVMs to change the outcome of elections.
EVMs have already been banned in many countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland and Italy, and the list is getting longer. Thus, there is a growing lack of confidence in EVMs the world over. Why should India persist with a failed system that has been abandoned worldwide? The risk of wholesale rigging inherent in EVMs, howsoever small, cannot be accepted in a democracy where the stakes in winning elections are so high.
A number of political leaders have opposed the use of EVMs in elections. Nitish Kumar in Bihar had been vehemently opposed to conducting of elections by the EVM like Sweden, Netherland, Germany, and Russia etc who completely banned this ‘faulty machine’. Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, the former Chief Minister of Assam had also opposed the entire motivated concept of election process before press meet, at the time of the last Assembly election of Assam.
Now, let’s see why Indian EVMs should be banned in India. Similar voting machines like Indian EVMs have been banned in many countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Irelands etc. and such machines are allowed in most states of the US only with a paper back up. Potential dangers of “vote fraud” and more importantly, lack of transparency and verifiability associated with them prompted the ban or restrictions of their use. Developed nations like the United Kingdom and France and advanced countries in our region like Japan and Singapore have so far stuck to voting on paper ballots, owing to their simplicity, verifiability and voter confidence in the system. India is an exception to this international trend and we continue to use these voting machines long discarded by the world due to lack of awareness and appreciation of the lack of public of the concerns.
Indian EVMs may also be held unconstitutional because they infringe upon the fundamental rights of the voters. In India, Right to vote is a legal right but how that vote should be exercised by a voter is his/ her individual expression, covered by Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution, which guarantees fundamental rights to the citizens. In the 2002 case pertaining to disclosure of assets and the criminal background of candidates, the Supreme Court ruled that voters have a right to know the antecedents of the contesting candidates and this is fundamental and basic for the survival of democracy.
Accordingly, a voter has the right to know that his vote which he exercised as a part of freedom of expression has really gone in favour of the candidate whom he/she has chosen. This right, fundamental in nature, is absent in the electronic voting system. In the traditional paper ballot system, that fundamental right was preserved because a voter knew exactly how his/ her vote was recorded and counted.
The extensive use of EVMs in Indian elections is illegal too! In 1984, the Supreme Court of India held that the use of electronic voting machines in elections was “illegal” as the Representation of People (RP) Act, 1951 did not permit the use of voting machines in elections. Later, the R.P. Act was amended in 1989 incorporating Section 61A. However, the amendment says voting machines “may be adopted in such constituency or constituencies as the Election Commission may, having regard to the circumstances of each case, specify.”
The electronic voting machines are safe and secure only if the source code used in the EVMs is genuine. Shockingly, the EVM manufacturers, the Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and Corporation of India (ECIL), have shared the ‘top secret’ EVM software program with two foreign companies, Microchip (USA) and Renesas (Japan) to copy it onto microcontrollers used in EVMs. This process should have been done securely in-house by the Indian Manufacturers. Worse, when the foreign companies deliver microcontrollers fused with software code to the EVM manufacturers, the EVM manufacturers cannot “read back” their contents as they are either OTP-ROM or masked chips.Amusingly, the software given by foreign companies is not even made available with the Election Commission, ostensibly for security reasons. With such ridiculous decisions, the Election Commission and the public sector manufacturers have rendered security of the EVMs a mockery.
The danger for EVM manipulations is not just from its software. Even the hardware isn’t safe. Dr. Alex Halderman, professor of computer science in the University of Michigan says, “EVMs used in the West require software attacks as they are sophisticated voting machines and their hardware cannot be replaced cheaply. In contrast, the Indian EVMs can easily be replaced either in part or as wholesale units.”
One crucial part that can be faked is microcontrollers used in the EVMs in which the software is copied. EVM manufacturers have greatly facilitated fraud by using generic microcontrollers rather than more secure ASIC or FPGA microcontrollers. Not just only microcontrollers, mother boards (cards which contain microcontrollers) and entire EVMs can be replaced. Neither the Election Commission nor the manufacturers have undertaken any hardware or software audit till date. As a result, such manipulation attempts would go undetected.
The EVMs are stored at the district headquarters or in a decentralized manner in different locations. Election Commission’s concern for EVM safety becomes apparent only during elections, where as security experts say that voting machines must remain in a secure environment throughout their life cycle.
There could be many malpractices associated with electronic counting.
Everybody watches polling closely. Nobody watches counting as closely.
Our Election Commission takes three months to conduct parliamentary elections but wants counting to be over in just three hours! In the rush to declare results and the winners, several serious lapses go unnoticed in the counting process. As a result, parties cannot give it the kind of attention that this activity deserves. Massive discrepancies between votes polled and counted in a large number of polling stations across the country raise serious concerns in this regard.
In 2011 polls, the Congress registered an unexpectedly huge victory by winning 78 of 126 seats of Assam Assembly. Tarun Gogoi returned to power for his third consecutive term. Some political parties, political critics said that the coming of the ruling Congress to power for the third consecutive term with overwhelming majority in Assam is not a real electoral mandate. Political parties, leaders, organisations of Assam are alleging that the Congress came to power with the blessing of EVM manipulation. In a democracy, popular will and the impulse of the people gets invariably reflected in electoral mandates. But, what happened in Assam was reverse.
The Managing Director of Net India Pvt. Limited Hariprasad had appeared in a Hyderabad TV channel and allegedly demonstrated how an EVM could be tampered with. In his demonstration, Prasad claimed that a small component (chip) can be replaced with a lookalike and instructed to silently steal a percentage of votes in favour of a chosen candidate. In his interview, he alleged that the machine could be rigged up to enable a device, such as a mobile phone, to tamper with the machine and track it. Prasad claimed that a pocket-sized device could be used to change votes stored in EVMs between the election and counting of votes. But, he could prove it only theoretically as the then Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla refused to provide him with a real EVM.
Nowadays a highly qualified scientist sitting in a closed room can easily repair and control a complicated missile in unreachable space. Now it’s a great question as to why it is not possible to manipulate the EVM. Hence, the manufacturing company must find out some ideas for making tamper proof EVMs for the sake of free, fair and transparent elections. A method should be evolved so that there should be an automatic slip coming out after the vote is cast like bank ATM’s slip after the transaction. It is being argued that if the machines could leave “paper trail” to be handed to the voter, the system will become beyond reproach. After all, millions of credit card transactions around the world would not beens possible without both, electronic registration of the transaction and a paper receipt for the customer. Our democracy is at risk; hence, it is high time the authorities did something to reform the existing faulty system.