Herald: For democracy’s sake, clear EVM hacking doubts

For democracy’s sake, clear EVM hacking doubts

24 Jan 2019 05:27am IST
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24 Jan 2019 05:27am IST

The allegations that the electronic voting machines (EVMs) can be hacked have to be taken seriously. The latest may have been made from London and bring brushed aside by the government, but it is definitely not going to be the last. We have heard these allegations and seen the demonstrations before, we will hear and see them again, especially since the Lok Sabha elections are due in the coming months. The elections have to be held with no shadow of doubt hanging over them, and this makes it imperative that all misgivings on the vulnerability of the EVM are laid to rest before the first vote is cast. 

This is neither the time nor is this an issue that has to be politicised. Right now there are two divergent opinions – the NDA and its allies assert that the electronic voting machines cannot be hacked, while UPA, its allies and the myriad other parties allege that this is possible. It almost appears as if the opposition fearing the possibility of a loss in the polls, is already building up an excuse. That should not be it. Every party has the responsibility to ensure that the best possible system of polling is used to elect India’s next government. If the ballot paper is trusted over the electronic voting machines, than let’s go back to it. The issue has to be addressed with all seriousness.

One thing is definite; India is the only large democracy, other than Brazil, that uses the electronic voting machines. All others rely on the ballot paper for electing a new government. With India’s teeming millions voting, the electronic voting machines may hasten the counting process, providing the result on the same day, but a day’s delay in counting should not score over the possibility of rigging in the polls and be the reason for using the machines. Assure all, without leaving any space for doubt, that the electronic voting machine cannot be rigged, and then go ahead with the machines. 

Because of the doubts of rigging, the Election Commission of India had introduced the voter verifiable audit paper trail that allows the voter to confirm that his vote has gone to the candidate of his or her choice. But this is not foolproof. Recall that in February 2017, in Punjab, the Election Commission had ordered repolling at 48 polling stations due to malfunction of the voter verifiable audit paper trail and electronic voting machines. In Goa too a few machines were replaced due to technical snags, and one was replaced as it had not been programmed as the symbol of the candidate. A few voters had to be called back to vote due to this.

There have been instances of human error too. At the 2017 State Assembly elections, the Election Commission of India had ordered a repoll at a booth in Aquem of Margao constituency as the presiding officer had failed to wipe out the mock votes cast prior to the polling starting to test the machine’s functioning. This was realised only after a large number of people had already cast their vote and the count failed to match, which necessitated the repoll. Such instances do bring into question the reliability of the voting machines and not just the possibility of them being rigged. 

Many countries have tested the electronic voting system and abandoned it. Only a handful use it nationwide, India being one of them. With the misgivings in the technology, there is need to revise this decision or clear all doubts that the electronic voting machines can be hacked. Until this is done, the allegations will continue, and India has not seen the last of the charges of hacking. 

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