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Get rid of EVMs

C. K. Raju

This refers to Raman Swamy's article on EVMs (Frontier, 28 Nov 2017). The issue of EVM tampering is indeed a very serious issue. Our election commissioners seem to understand nothing about computers, and are asking us to blindly trust technology. Their claim that these machines are hack proof is completely unacceptable. If I put my computer in a sealed cage and tell you to hack it, and you are unable to do so, that is no proof that it cannot be hacked, for I could still have hacked it.

All those who have access to the computer at any stage, storage, transit, operation, may potentially inject it with malware. The machines (or a certain small proportion of them) may be injected with malware even at the stage of manufacture. The infamous stuxnet worm, developed by the American and Israeli state cyber attack agencies, destroyed many centrifuges used in the Iranian nuclear enrichment program. Though the details may differ, our EVMs too operate similarly using electronic control units which can be manipulated without any direct intervention.

Because EVMs involve sophisticated electronic circuitry, it is possible to develop sophisticated software to manipulate them so that the malfunctioning EVMs will evade detection in a variety of way.  For example, they may malfunction at random or pre-programmed times which could be triggered in a variety of ways, known only to a few.

Also, on our voting system, a small bias in the voting is enough to swing a large number of seats. This is well known from analysis of past elections. Hence naive sampling theory cannot be used to correctly assess the risk of EVM failure.

That is if even one machine has been observed to fail, ALL are suspect. If a few have been observed to fail, all should be discarded, not just those few.

The only way to remove doubts is to calibrate the machines against conventional ballot papers over a long enough period of time. The fact that such tests of EVMs were done at some time in the past is no proof of anything, for with the slightest change in technology (which keeps happening as technology is constantly upgraded) the new model of the machine would need to be recalibrated afresh. This makes voting machines unviable, for by the time a machine is satisfactorily calibrated, it would be out of date.

The use of a paper trail (VVPAT) is no guarantee against malfunction. Most persons are frightened of technology, and would not know where to look for the paper trail. Is there any campaign to educate the users India-wide on how to use the machine? A faulty paper trail may not be clearly visible to a visually challenged person. And what is the guarantee that a complaint would be taken seriously? And if paper votes are being used anyway, why not have just paper votes? Why invest in expensive machines which are redundant? Is it because machines are easier to manipulate than voters?

Advocating blind reliance on technology is the worst kind of superstition which lays us open to the manipulation of the Indian elections from a huge variety of sources, including foreign sources whose components are used anywhere in the machines.

Dec 12, 2017


C. K. Raju [email protected]

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