India is the largest Participatory Democracy of the world, with about 850 million registered voters. The Constitutional mandate of superintendence, direction, and control of Elections to the Parliament and the State Legislative Assemblies has been conferred on the Election Commission of India. The Election Commission of India is an independent Constitutional entity, which has successfully conducted regular elections to the Parliament and various State Legislative Assemblies for the past 66 years in a free, fair, participative, informed and credible manner. The Commission is widely acknowledged as a ‘’Global Gold Standard’’ in Election Management across the World, setting ever-higher standards of efficient and professional conduct of Elections.
The Commission has been at the forefront of embracing, adopting and implementing the latest technological advancements in improving and fine-tuning the election processes and systems. The Commission has taken the pioneering initiative of introducing Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) for recording, storing and counting of votes across the length and breadth of the Country in a transparent, credible and secure manner, backed by appropriate legal support. The use of EVM demonstrates the Commission’s unflinching resolve to continually improve, upgrade and strengthen the Electoral Process in the country. The Commission has successfully used EVMs in conducting 113 General Elections to the State Legislative Assemblies and 3 Lok Sabha Elections over the last 23 years.
Despite the gold standard the Election Commission has set in conducting free and fair elections through EVMs, some parties continue to blame EVMs for their loss in elections. These parties have at multiples times claimed that EVMs are vulnerable to manipulation and can be used to influence elections by foul means. The charges against EVMs are baseless. We have outlined some salient aspects of EVM security and why EVMs cannot be hacked.
The journey of EVM in India
Voting system in India has gone through multiple changes. During the first two General Elections to the Lok Sabha in 1952 and 1957, each candidate was allotted a separate ballot box pasted with the symbol of the candidate. The names and symbols of the candidates were not printed on the ballot paper and voters had to drop an pre-printed ballot paper in the ballot box of the candidate of their choice. This system ignited fears of tampering, booth capturing, and manipulation in the minds of the various stakeholders and was soon replaced.
Before introduction of the EVM, the ubiquitous Ballot papers were used to cast votes in the Indian Elections, with considerable success. The use of ballot papers was time consuming, prone to malpractices like booth-capturing and ballot-box stuffing, large number of invalid votes due to wrong/incorrect marking, subject to prolonged counting drills, more disputes and delayed result announcement besides being an ecologically straining and non-environment friendly method.
EVM and VVPAT in India: Design and Manufacture Protocol:
Indian EVMs and VVPATs are manufactured by Bharat Electronics Limited (PSU under Ministry of Defence, Govt. of India) and Electronics Corporation of India Limited (PSU under the Department of Atomic Energy, Govt. of India). The software of EVMs is developed in-house by a selected group of Engineers in BEL and ECIL independently from each other. This select software development group of few engineers design and develop the source code. After completion of software development, testing and evaluation of the software is carried out by another independent testing group in the PSUs as per the software requirements specifications (SRS).
Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail system (VVPAT) was introduced in 2013 to provide even greater transparency to the poll process. The VVPAT is an additional unit attached to the EVM, which prints a small slip of paper that carries the symbol, name and serial number of the candidate voted by Voter, which is visible for 7 (seven) seconds in the viewing window. The voter after pressing the button on BU can view the printed slip on VVPAT through the viewing window and thus can verify that the vote is recorded for the Candidate of his/her choice. These paper slips are automatically cut and stored in a sealed compartment of VVPAT and can be used later to cross check the votes in CU as per the prescribed procedure by ECI.
The printing of slip in VVPAT is an additional verification to the voter, besides glowing of LED near candidate 16 Electronic Voting Machines in India: A Status Paper button and the beep in EVM system. The Commission is committed to the 100% deployment of VVPATs with EVMs at all polling stations in all future elections to the Parliament and state Legislative Assemblies. Pursuant to the Government approval, ECIL and BEL have committed to manufacture and supply 16,15,000 VVPAT machines required for conduct of General Elections to Lok Sabha 2019 to the Election Commission by November 2018.
Technological safeguards that contribute to non-tamperability of EVM are the following:
- EVM used by the Commission is a stand-alone non-networked, one time-programmable (OTP) machine, which is neither computer controlled, nor connected to the internet or any network; and hence, cannot be ‘Hacked’.
- The machine is electronically protected to prevent any tampering/ manipulation. The programme (software) used in these machines is burnt into a One Time Programmable (OTP)/Masked chip so that it cannot be altered or tampered with.
- The software of EVMs is developed in-house by a selected group of Engineers in BEL (Defence Ministry PSU) and ECIL (Atomic Energy Ministry’s PSU) independently from each other.
- After completion of software design, testing and evaluation of the software is carried out by an Independent Testing Group as per the software requirements specifications (SRS). This ensures that the software has really been written as per the requirements laid down for its intended use only.
- After successful completion of such evaluation, machine code is given to the micro controller manufacturer for writing in the micro controllers. From this machine code, the source code cannot be read. 18 Electronic Voting Machines in India: A Status Paper Source code is never handed over to anyone outside the software group of PSUs.
- Micro controller manufacturer initially provides engineering samples to PSUs for evaluation. These samples are assembled into the EVM, evaluated and verified for functionality at great length. Bulk production clearance by PSU is given to micro controller manufacturer only after successful completion of this verification.
- The source code for the EVM is stored under controlled conditions at all times. Checks and balances are in place to ensure that it is accessible to authorized personnel only.
- During production in the factory, functional testing is done by production group as per the laid down Quality plan and performance test procedures.
- The software is so designed that it allows a voter to cast the vote only once. The vote can be recorded by a voter from the ballot unit only after the Presiding Officer enables the ballot on the Control Unit. The machine does not receive any signal from outside at any time. The next vote can be recorded only after the Presiding Officer enables the ballot on the Control Unit. In between, the machine becomes dead to any signal from outside (except from the Control Unit).
- Samples of EVMs from production batches are regularly checked for functionality by Quality Assurance Group, which is an independent unit within the PSUs.
- Certain additional features were introduced in M2 generation of EVMs (Post-2006) such as dynamic coding between Ballot Unit (BU) and Control Unit (CU), installation of real time clock, installation of full display system and date and time stamping of key-pressing in EVM.
- The Report of the Expert Committee for the Technical Evaluation of 19 Electronic Voting Machines in India: A Status Paper the Upgraded EVMs in 2006 has concluded that any tampering of CU by coded signals by wireless or outside or Bluetooth or WiFi is ruled out as CU does not have any radio frequency (RF) receiver and data decoder. CU accepts only specially encrypted and dynamically coded data from BU. Data from any outside source cannot be accepted by CU.
Administrative safeguards taken up by the Election Commission in India:
All the functions and procedures are implemented through the District Election Officers (DEOs), Returning Officers (ROs), Assistant Returning Officers (AROs) and other officers and officials of the State Government concerned, who are on deemed deputation to the ECI and are under its superintendence, direction and control in so far as election related duties are concerned. These safeguards are:
- Before every election, a first level checking (FLC) is done for every EVM to be used in the election by the engineers of the manufacturers in the presence of political parties’ representatives.
- Manufacturers certify at the time of FLC that all components in the EVM are original. After this, the plastic cabinet of Control Unit of the EVM is sealed using a “Pink Paper Seal”, which is signed by representatives of political parties and stored in strong rooms
- At the time of FLC, 1200 votes are cast in 1% of EVMs, 1000 votes in 2% and 500 votes in another 2% of EVMs using VVPATs in the presence of the representatives of political parties. After the Mock Poll, the printed VVPAT slips are counted and the result tallied with the electronic result of CU. The tally is also shown to the representative of political parties present in the FLC. Representatives of political parties are allowed to do mock poll themselves. It is all documented by DEOs/ROs.
- Subsequently, stored EVMs are randomized by computer software twice, once for allocation of machines to assembly constituencies and second to polling stations in the presence of candidates or their representatives before they are distributed for use in individual polling stations
- During the process of Candidate setting on the EVMs, Ballot Paper is fixed on the Ballot Unit and the EVMs are prepared for the number of candidates in fray in a particular constituency. It must be noted here that the arrangement of names in the ballot paper, and hence the Ballot Unit, is in alphabetical order, first for the National & State Recognized parties, followed by other State Registered Parties, and then by Independents. Thus, the sequence in which the candidates appear on the Ballot Unit is contingent on the names of the candidates and their party affiliation and cannot be ascertained beforehand. Hence, the serial number of the candidates of any particular political party will vary in each constituency and cannot be determined beforehand thereby ruling out any possibility of manipulation.
- Once the candidate setting is done, the Ballot Unit of the EVM is also sealed with thread/Pink Paper seals so that nobody has access to the inside of the Ballot Unit too.
- During the time of EVM Preparation and Candidate Setting, a mock poll of 1000 votes cast in 5% of randomly selected EVMs, as well as VVPATs. The electronic result is tallied with VVPAT slip count by the RO and his designated officers in the presence of the candidate or his agents for complete transparency.
- After the mock poll is over, another thread seal and green paper seals are put on the Control Unit to block access to all buttons on the CU, except those, which are used for the conduct of poll. These paper seals and thread seals are allowed to be signed by the polling agents.
- After this, the entire EVM is sealed. Candidates and their agents are allowed to put their signatures on the seals, which they can check for the intactness of the seal before counting.
- In addition to this, the strong rooms where EVMs are stored, for counting are also sealed and secured fully by Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) guards round-the-clock. The candidates and their representatives are allowed to put their own seals on the strong 22 Electronic Voting Machines in India: A Status Paper rooms. They are also allowed to keep a watch round the clock on the strong room.
- FLC, Preparation of EVMs before poll, mock poll, etc., are mandatorily conducted in the presence of the representatives of candidates or political parties and duly documented.
- Coupled with randomization of EVMs, the polling officials deputed to the Polling Stations are also randomized through a 3 stage randomization process.
Evolution & Incorporation of Technology in EVMs:
On advice of Technical Expert Committee (TEC), certain features were introduced in EVMs from time to time, based on available technology and state-of-the-art for hardware and software. While improvements have been brought in the designs of EVMs which were enabled by the availability of advanced technology in Electronics and which have led to incorporation of many features in newer EVMs, EVMs of earlier versions also had such key features built in. Notwithstanding all this, the non-tamperability of EVMs has been of supreme consideration in all versions of EVMs. This along with ECI’s strict administrative practices on use of EVMs have ensured truthful operations of EVMs over years
A point is raised from time to time that several foreign countries have discontinued the use of voting machines and why India is using EVMs. With the rapid advances in technology over the years, Election Management Bodies, professionals, experts, and activists (particularly Green Activists) have mooted the idea of using paperless electronic voting methods in different parts of the world in order to overcome the disadvantages of manual marking of paper ballots. The marriage between technology and election management goes back to at least 1892, when the first ‘lever voting machine’ was used in New York, after using the paper ballot for a long time. In the 1960s, punch card machines were introduced in the USA, and the first EVM was introduced there in 1975. Electronic Voting has moved quite ahead since then.
Today, the ECI once again completely reaffirms its faith in the non-tamperability of the EVMs of ECI in view of the technical security features and the stringent administrative protocols and procedural safeguards which are mandatorily to be followed during and after the polls. In conclusion, it will be pertinent to refer to the verdict of the Karnataka High Court in this respect, which observed that EVM in India is a “national pride” and the fact that Indian elections are widely internationally acknowledged as the “Global Gold Standard”.
The Commission and electoral system stakeholders have taken a conscious decision that EVM is the right answer to the formidable task of election management and the huge logistical challenges it throws. The ECI hopes that once the VVPATs cover all the polling booths in the country, the confidence and transparency will be further enhanced. The Commission firmly believes that the introduction of VVPAT machines with the EVMs in all future elections will bring utmost transparency and credibility 58 Electronic Voting Machines in India: A Status Paper in the EVM-based voting system in our country and conclusively put to rest all misinformed doubts and misgivings regarding these machines.
The Commission will launch a comprehensive, concerted and nationwide voter education and awareness programme under its flagship SVEEP initiative, to educate, orient and inform the voters about the functioning, usage and advantages of the VVPAT machines and their immense utility in reinforcing the transparency, credibility and authenticity if the voting process. The Commission earnestly solicits the cooperation and collaboration of all the vital stakeholders, particularly the political parties, to join hands in spreading awareness about the advantages of VVPAT machines. The Commission is confident that the collaborative efforts of all the stakeholders in the electoral process will lead to continuous improvements in the electoral management and make our system more transparent, participative, informed and credible.
The Commission firmly believes in an open, constructive and comprehensive dialogue with all crucial stakeholders in the electoral process and the political parties are a critical stakeholder of the democratic edifice in the country. Considering the recent issues regarding use of EVMs, the Commission convened an All Party Meeting on 12th May 2017.
The objective behind the said meeting was to facilitate threadbare discussions and detailed deliberations amongst the important players in the electoral arena on this vital issue, so that all views and counter-views were placed on the table and thrashed out transparently and cogently. In All Political Parties Meeting the Commission assured 100% coverage of VVPATs in all future election to the Parliament and State Assembly Elections. In the said meeting the representatives of political parties were informed that the Commission would hold a challenge and offered opportunity to political parties to demonstrate that EVMs used in the recently concluded Assemblies elections were tampered OR that EVMs could be tampered even under the laid down Technical and Administrative Safeguards.