Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu is leading the charge in the battle against the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs). Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP), along with 21 other parties, is trying to persuade the Election Commission of India (ECI) to make it mandatory for 50 per cent EVMs to be verified against the VVPAT (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail) machines.
“Introducing a 50 per cent mandatory check of VVPATs is a good measure for a better check and balance as the EVMs are susceptible to manipulation. We have spent Rs 9,000 crore on VVPATs. Now, why shouldn’t the EC use that information as part of the counting process? It may mean that the process will take a few hours more. But that is a small price considering we are having an election spread across 40 days,” says Naidu, adding that there is no response from the EC on what it will do in case there’s a mismatch of votes counted through EVMs and VVPATs.
Naidu and other opposition leaders are moving the Supreme Court again on the issue of dispensing with the EVMs and returning to the paper ballot system “to preserve the sanctity of the electoral process. He points out that even technologically advanced countries have returned to it as a more secure voting process.” His concern is that the EVMs can be tampered with by managing micro controllers and chips in a manner that the vote can go to another party instead of the one the voter intended to support. “Only 18 of the 191 countries in the world are using EVMs, having learnt that it can be manipulated by several means. Further, there is no provision for audit of EVMs either in terms of software or hardware,” Naidu says. The TDP chief claimed that many of the world’s leading electronic voting security researchers have said that India’s EVMs do not provide security, verifiability and transparency.
Naidu’s technology adviser Vemuru Hari Krishna Prasad, a security researcher, had demonstrated in 2010 how a EVM can be hacked, but a theft case was booked against him in Mumbai. It was on his suggestionswelcomed by then Election Commissioners S.Y. Quraishi and V.S. Sampaththat the VVPAT was designed and the EC invited him to its first trial in 2011. Yet, when he went to the Nirvachan Sadan as a member of Naidu’s delegation on April 13, the EC described him as someone whose “antecedents did not inspire confidence.”
“I felt insulted when they said I am an accused in a case of EVM theft,” says Prasad, pointing out that the current M3 version of the EVM can be hacked and the VVPAT machines are vulnerable too. “Flashing the paper trail only for three seconds, instead of the stipulated seven, shows that the original code inside the EVM is not sacrosanct. When a code is changed, the machine loses its integrity,” says Prasad.
Echoing Naidu’s concerns, Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav has alleged that EVMs were “malfunctioning or voting for the BJP” across the country and described it as criminal negligence “for a polling exercise that costs Rs 50,000 crore.”
However, Quraishi cautions, “Political parties should understand that the prolonged debate on EVMs and VVPATS and questioning the integrity of the EC will send a negative impression of India’s image worldwide. The credibility of EVMs has been questioned since 1982, when it was first introduced. Every political party at one point or the other has raised doubts. They take up the issue when they lose the election and forget it when they win using the same EVMs.”