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Say ‘No’ to Paper Audit Trail for EVMs

September 9, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

The controversy over Indian EVMs seems to have been taken out of the hands of loonies, but is far from over. Writing in Indian Express, Coomi Kapoor demands creation of a paper trail for EVM votes. The article is all over the place, and full of ill-considered comparisons of EVMs (thankfully, not with American EVMs, though Microsoft has been quoted). Here is the money-shot recommendation made by an unnamed “Election Watch body in Andhra Pradesh”:

The best solution is a combination of technology and paper. Most of our population will never ever be comfortable with technology. So no matter what security experts may say about the security of EVMs, the vast majority of our citizens will have a lingering doubt. Hence, we believe that each time we cast our vote, a small printer connected to the EVM also prints out the vote, not the name of the candidate but the number of the candidate in different languages. This would make the design of the system much simpler as the EVM per se does not know the name of the candidate. The person who is voting can obtain a physical confirmation that the machine printed the number of the button he or she pressed and then this ballot paper can be placed in the ballot box and sealed. A physical counting of votes can only be ordered by a court of law. This process may increase the cost of the election process, waste more paper, be environment unfriendly but we believe it will set all nay sayers to rest. [Indian Express]

So, what happens when a Congress supporter in LK Advani’s constituency casts his vote for BJP, and then waves the printed receipt in front of election officials and journalists saying that the EVM has been hacked by Advani’s supporters (by Gujarati NRIs, who seem to have a great deal of experience in hacking EVMs in the great nation of USA)?

Feel free to change the names of parties/candidates in the example above to suit your political inclinations.

How would you deal with this? Would you videotape everyone’s vote, and then keep the tape secret? But if your entire premise is that EVMs can be hacked, how can you be sure that video cameras (which are far more complicated than EVMs) would not be hacked? If you already suspect that the secure storage of EVMs is not secure enough, how would you convince yourself that the video tapes have not been tampered with during storage?

Or, would you just abandon the EVMs and go back to the days of paper ballots?

I have a feeling that that is precisely what objections to the EVMs are about.

That is what Amrinder Singh (of Congress, please note) wanted in 2001. And if you take away all the fluff, that is what some losers are demanding in 2009.

To be fair, some commentators perhaps have a genuine fear of technology. The Election Commission must do everything in its power to demonstrate the credibility of EVMs to the electorate on a periodic basis. It should allow whichever party wants to inspect the EVMs, even if sometimes they don’t even turn up. It should also consider using EVMs for elections right down to the Panchayat level (is that done already?) to build trust among people. Remember, the smaller the electorate, the easier it is for individual voters to confirm their mental calculations about the victors and the margin of victory, and be satisfied about the EVMs.

And as I have said before, the Election Commission must release the source code of the embedded software in public domain.

But it must make no compromises on the use of EVMs. If our democracy has to remain healthy, the EVMs must continue to be used. A return to the paper-based system is a return to the days of goons, violence, needless deaths and yes, rigged elections.

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  1. Hari Prasad
    September 10, 2009 at 6:26 am

    I feel strongly that the controversy of EVMs is not been assessed properly by anybody. The subject is been hijacked by some people who live in fiction of radio frequencies and satellites, Critics without in-depth knowledge in the EVM subject would confuse people from the fact. Our EVMs are simple machines with limited logic like a calculator and they are not networked..the Chip used is mask rom which is completely sealed and the code cannot be read even by the manufacturer. Apart from these the electoral process involves checks and balances like randomization,sealing etc., And based on these the election commission claims that these machines are infalliblle and the chairman of the technical committee that certified these machines compared these machines with Sita’s Virginity( see CNN-IBN news link on 19th July).

    Is this correct..are these machines truly tamper proof, Here I would like to put forward my experience with the election commission from last three months. Where in we even inspected the circuit inside and found out the vulnerabilities, and the process is still on for some more time(we are not the ones who ECI claims ‘failed to demonstrate’)We are been invited by ECI and We will be tampering 2-3 machines out of 20 lot provided to us by ECI. We shall give back the entire lot for verification to identify the tampered machines and if they fail, we shall show them the rigged ones through a mock election and shall suggest the remedies to close the open loops. The results of the complete exercise shall be made available soon. Mean while below are the points that raise suspicions..

    1.There is no software check done by ECI while receiving the machines from the manufacturers and they accepted this in a response given to RTI application saying that the Election commission will do only functional test. And it is the same with the PSU (ECIL & BEL) as the chip used(being masked and completely sealed) doesn’t provide the facility to check the authenticity of the code.

    2. The Source code of the EVMs is not with the election commission of india and ECI accepts that the IP rights belong to the PSU’s.

    3. The EVMs manufactured are delivered directly to the district officials and after functional test like mockpoll the EVMs are certified as perfect. Though ECI claims that the machines are not state loyal and randomized across the country, ground fact shows randomization is limited to district level only.

    4. Out of 13.8 lac machines used in the recent election 9.7 lacs are old and are against the Indiresan committee report. Ballot unit doesn’t carry any protocol with the control unit and prone to easy tampering by a simple jumper( of course the mock poll detects this but if it is done after the mock poll by somebody?)

    5. The present EVMs(including the upgraded) are not replication proof.

    All these concerns raised need to be addressed and it is the duty of Election commission to clarify and if required to upgrade the machines. Even one machine is tampered to be treated as a serious issue, we cannot console ourselves that it requires high level conspiracy to rig an election,

    As per me ECI lost control over evms as they cannot check 13.8lac EVMs (may be more) from replicas. Given a scope any corrupt politician irrespective of a particular party shall definitely attempt to tamper the EVMs rather buying votes. I completely support the open standard implementation in these machines as per our e-governance policy. A verification tool must be made available to the polling agents/parties to check the authenticity of the code inside the EVM. These tools need to be developed by third parties and to be certified by NIC similar to SCOSTA (Smart card OS for transport applications).

  2. Hari Prasad
    September 10, 2009 at 6:35 am

    There is a small error in my earlier comment…”my experience with the election commission from last three months”.Please read it as EVM subject instead of Election Commission. We were invited on 17th of August for the first time by the election commission.

  3. September 17, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    @Hari Prasad: I am looking forward to the test results.

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