Lounge Technology

E-Voting machines and the never ending controversies!

This is getting tiresome! Time and again, the two largest political parties in India, the Congress and the BJP (along with the numerous regional parties) have accused the winners of Electronic Voting Machines (#EVM) frauds. As an Electronics Engineer and a practising Software Engineer, I haven’t seen till now any convincing proof of a mass-scale hacking or technology holes in the EVMs made in #India.

A truly transparent and fraud-proof method of electing leaders will be to have a fight till the death between the candidates, like wild animals – but that is not an option that is available in a democracy! The name of the game is PROCESS improvement and not technology elimination.

Venkatarangan

In the past too, in 2004 I have written on the same topic of running elections.

My understanding of EVM are from common knowledge and from the public manual published by Election Commission of India (ECI) on their website – the recent one was titled “Manual on Electronic Voting Machine and VVPAT, July 2018” (the image on top of this page was from this manual).

I agree, in many parts of the world, there have been problems with EVMs especially in the USA with its countless vendors manufacturing countless varieties (due to varying state laws and their autonomy in procurement). But the fact is (an irony too) that the ones made for Election Commission of India are not sophisticated, they are not smart (No Modern OS on them to run anything else, which is a blessing in this case of super speciality use-case) or networked in any fashion to the outside world (Internet or elsewhere). The way to do fraud, in these scenarios, will be during the process of data tabulation and reporting, which in my guess will be super-hard and nearly impossible with poll observers of all parties in every counting stations.

This latest one by Syed Shuja is laughable – transmitting radio signals to a device which doesn’t have any antennas or radio of any sort – how will such a hack work, is beyond any electronics I studied.

My interest in this subject is from a Technology angle and I am NOT claiming (I am not an investigating agency or knowledgable on the field of security) that no fraud has been done by the BJP or the Congress or anyone else in the past, but so far no technology proof by any of the ‘claimed’ hackers that have been published are convincing for an engineer like me.

When I posted the above in my Facebook wall, a friend replied with a reference to an article on The Hindu by Mr G Sampath titled “Why EVMs must go“. To me, the article feels to be a case of cherry picking for a pre-concluded narrative. I believe EVMs can be better audited and the whole process can be made (closer to being) fool-proof if our respected leaders put their minds together. For their failure to improve the process, throwing the baby in the cold water is not a solution, it is regressive and a disservice to the poor of this country. In setting the clock back to paper voting, I see no difference to those that are being followed by Indian Nationalists who keep talking of a superior Indian race before the European invasion.

No one believing on democracy can have a second opinion that the public needs to have complete transparency and trust in the process of electing their Government representatives. I will say the Citizens should ask his/her parliamentarians and the candidates when they come seeking for votes for a better and improved Electronic Voting process. Of course, there are the Hon’ble Courts of Law too.

We need an EVM that is constantly improved, benchmarked and audited – by a neutral/respected body or the United Nations (controversial but I will throw that in for experts to deliberate). As my security friends have pointed out, it will be welcome if the Election Commission of India publishes the source codes and architecture of their machines – security by obscurity is not a good idea in this day and age – this move will allow researchers from around the world to validate the technology and that may finally put this ghost to rest. In any case, throwing away EVMs in the search of a utopia through Paper ballots appears vain for me.

I will urge our national parties to be innovative on their respective accusations against each other – which are much needed for a vibrant democracy – newer accusations will be interesting for the common man while reading the NEWS and not these FUDs!

Venkatarangan

Footnote 30th March 2019: My friend Dr Badri Seshadri, had written on his Facebook timeline about what transcribed with his meeting with Prof DT Shahani (Prof. Emeritus in IIT Delhi) who from 2006 till date is the Chairman of the technical committee set up by the Election Commission for the EVM. 

Prof. Shahani explained step by step the various security measures implemented in the EVM such as the self-destruction mechanism if forced hacking is attempted; self-diagnosis on checksum every time the machine is powered on; the public-key, private-key encryption used in this; how this encryption changes randomly; the one-time programmable chip that is used; 

1 Comment

  1. A sensible post sir. To me EVM is a classic example of a simple system and not over engineered. To rig a poll using EVM you need to have concurrence of 1000’s of individuals (with varied ideologies and political leaning ), which is impossible today.

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