Can we Trust the EVM?

EVMs – Electronic Voting Machines as they are called have once again come to the forefront to bear the brunt of the criticism by the losers in the recently held assembly elections to five states in India.

All that raises the question in the minds of the public, on whether we can trust the EVMs?

In short, yes, we can trust the EVMs.

Not because they are absolutely tamper-proof, but because the AAP suggesting that 20-25% of his party’s votes were “transferred” to the Akali Dal due to the EVMs and BSP’s allegation that votes to BJP only were registered and not others- reek of ignorance or are ridiculous for not accepting political defeat at the hands of electorate.

Machine-manipulation charges levelled by these political parties have no real basis.

The legitimacy of the election process is a key component of any democracy. And the ECI has put in place some technological and procedural complications which make it difficult or near impossible for the machines or the process to be compromised.


What are the safeguards in the EVMs and the process?

  • EVMs are standalone machines, meaning, they are not connected either by wire or wireless network to any other machine or system. Hence they can’t be influenced by signals from outside.
  • The EVMs have software put on one time programmable chip and can’t be altered or tampered because the source code is not made available to the outsider.
  • Election Commission of India has “Standard of Procedure” which is strictly adhered to by all officers of EC.
  • The SOP of ECI to enhance transparency provides an opportunity to political parties and candidates to participate in testing the reliability of machines. Party representatives are allowed to test at random by computer generated sequences as the first level of testing
  • At the second level of testing, from the constituency headquarters to the polling booths, the machines are allocated at random and candidates are allowed to test them again.
  • On the polling day, presiding officer conducts a mock poll to demonstrate the correctness of machines in recorded votes.
  • Above all the machines that were used in the elections (about 75%) in the five states were manufactured between 2006-2012.
  • The position of the party candidate on the EVM buttons is decided alphabetically going by the name of the candidate in respective state’s vernacular language and not by name of the party.
  • The data tallied from VVPAT-enabled EVMs in U.P. in around 20 constituencies in the recent Assembly election corroborated the election results.

Benefits of using EVMs

EVMs have enhanced the electoral democracy in tangible ways.

  • Post-poll survey data shows a strong evidence that the introduction of EVMs led to a significant decline in electoral fraud. Paper-based voting led to high invalid voting and hijacking of the ballot boxes.
  • The EVMs are programmed in such a way that the machines will record only five votes in a minute, it raises the cost of capturing the booth or registering illegal votes. Further, the presiding Officer or one of the Polling Officers can always press the “close” button as soon as they see some intruders inside the polling station. It will not be possible to record any vote when once the ‘close’ button is pressed and this will frustrate the efforts of the booth-capturers.
  • The EVMs apart from making the process robust have led to keeping the process simple and effective.
  • EVMs led to a virtual elimination of rejected or error-ridden votes.
  • The assembled district-level data on crimes from the National Crime Records Bureau: analysis suggests a very strong link between the introduction of EVMs and decline in crime.
  • The introduction of EVMs led to a serious decline in the vote share of incumbent parties; these effects were more pronounced in states prone to electoral violence. This makes the political representatives align themselves to the preferences of the voters. The use of voting machines significantly increased the provision of electricity in a constituency.
  • The elections became more competitive and less likely to be manipulated by parties in power, which, in turn, had an impact on promoting development by increased provision of public goods.

In conclusion, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has time and again demonstrated, through increased and transparent measures, the reliability and fool-proof nature of the EVM.

This should convince any sceptic that the voters, and not the machines, decide the outcome. Even a super-intelligent programmer cannot visualise where the EVMs will be used to hack it.

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