It’s election time in India. And there has been a saying around that EVM’s can be hacked and votes are being polled in favor of a particular party.
DISCLAIMER : It is election time, and i would love to keep this post as technical as possible without mentioning the name of any political parties. This post is not meant to turn the votes in favor of a particular party but rather as a personal opinion on a particular matter. If this post seems to offend someone or some party, please mail your opinions to firstname.lastname@example.org
During the time when elections were conducted using paper, there were numerous allegations of misconduct in elections, in response to which Election Commission of India introduced Electronic Voting Machines or EVM’s.
EVM’s as their name suggests traditionally consisted of two units, a control unit and a ballot unit. The ballot unit is where you cast your vote and the control unit is where the votes are being recorded. The control unit is a standalone unit operated using battery.
During start of every elections, a mock poll in front of participating party agents to demonstrate that the machine is in full working order. After mock elections, the control unit is sealed and the seal is broken only after the election is over. There are no external connections to the control unit other than the ballot unit. Allegations were made regarding the security of EVM’s by numerous security experts after which ECI was forced to make major design changes to existing model.
The model that is in use in present elections is 3rd iteration of the EVM. These new version of EVM’s have tamper detection and self diagnostic features. If any changes is made to the software by any other person, the EVM would be able to detect the integrity of machine and identify changes to either its software or hardware and will not start up. Each software chipset is one time programmable only and each chipset has a specific encrypted hardware key which the EVM use to detect any tampering during startup.
Various people have made claims that the machine polls vote to a particular party only after a particular code is entered into the control unit by using ballot unit as the keyboard. Even though this seem legitimately possible, there is still a last line of defense for fair elections. VVPAT’s Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail. VVPAT’s is a separate unit that is connected to ballot unit that prints the symbol of the party to which you have cast your vote to. This paper votes are counted in selected polling booths in random to ensure that the votes have been conducted in fair manner.
Even with all these safe guards, it is still possible to hack a EVM. Malpractice can be done in particular polling station, where VVPAT’s votes would not be counted. Against all these claims, only one person can ensure free and fair elections and that is Election Commission of India. Protocols that ECI follow during every stage of the election process starting from the stage in which EVM’s are designed and manufactured to the counting process. Strict protocols put in place by ECI can still ensure a free and fair election.
People of India trust in democracy. It is the duty of ECI to ensure that the elections are conducted in a fair manner and the person that is elected is actually the person that people chose.
Security in electronic world is not possible. Hacking can be done even if the EVM is designed to its best. That is where the role of ECI comes in. Lets hope ECI would conduct a fair election against all odds.