Can an Indian EVM be hacked during an election?

Indian elections are a celebration of our democracy, though it ends up being a costly celebration. Indian elections are unique in the sense that along with deciding the fate of the nation and it’s politicians it also gets to decide the credibility of EVM, the Electronic Voting Machines being used. If Congress wins the election, EVMs are not tampered with, but when BJP wins EVMs lose their credibility. Congress and it’s supporters are sure it’s tampered with. How else can Congress and the Nehru/Gandhi family lose? Don’t they have the sole ownership of the country and the right to rule forever?

Now coming to the question of whether they can be tampered with. I am an engineer with specialisation in computer science. With great difficulty I cleared 3 papers in electronics by just getting the passing marks. So I don’t understand how an EVM works and have no freaking idea if it could be tampered. My guess is as good as anybody who has gone through materials available in public domain.

So what’s the point of writing this blog, you ask. I am not going to make a case that EVMs cannot be tampered. My argument is just that people cannot tamper an EVM and get away with it. It can be figured out easily. Now hows that possible, you ask. Through VVPAT slips, I say. So what’s VVPAT, you would ask. Let’s see.

It stands for Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail. The machine looks like this.

Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail machine

It’s now mandatory to use VVPAT with EVMs in every election. So how does this work.

Let’s say I vote for Party A during an election. Once I vote the VVPAT machine attached to the EVM will generate a small slip with the details of the candidate I voted, for me to verify it. Once it’s verified the slip is stored within the VVPAT machine and cannot be taken out by the voter. Similarly for every vote that’s polled the VVPAT machine will store a slip with the candidate details who was voted for and as mentioned before the voter can verify if the correct candidate was voted for.

During counting if the election agent of a candidate is not convinced with the results they can demand for counting of the slips from the VVPAT machines to confirm the results. That’s how you figure out if a voting machine has been tampered with.

For e.g. if the EVM shows 100 seats for Party A and 30 seats for Party B and if Party B’s election agent thinks this can’t be correct they can demand that the VVPAT slips from that machine be counted and if the counting shows different numbers than the EVM it would be clear that the EVM is tampered with.

Now, going briefly back to the question on whether EVMs could be tampered. As I said I can’t be absolutely sure that they cannot be tampered as I don’t know how they work, but I believe till now they have not been tampered with. The reasons are:

1. Though EC has multiple times demonstrated that EVMs actually work fine not even once has anybody proved it otherwise.

2. Recently there was an event in London where the organizers claimed to show how the EVMs could be tampered with. Leave alone showing a practical demo they couldn’t even theoretically explain how it could be done.

3. Around 2 years back EC called for an EVM hackathon challenge. Nobody, not even parties and people who consistently talk about how BJP wins elections only due to EVM tampering came forward to even try tamper an EVM.

To me EVM tampering is just a fairytale being spread around by people who are not ready to agree that the psyche of the people on ground is much different from what they think it is or it should be.

Note: I wouldn’t change my opinion on EVMs untill somebody proves it can be tampered with. Till then not even a BJP loss will make me change it.

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