Leaders of 22 political parties met the Election Commission, on 21 May 2019, and submitted a memorandum asking that the verification of the VVPAT slips of randomly identified polling stations should be done prior to the initiation of counting of votes and not after the completion of the last round of counting. The opposition parties also asked the Election Commission to lay down procedure in case of mismatch in the voting figures in EVMs and VVPATs. The opposition parties have asked the EC to count all the VVPATs slips in the assembly segment if a mismatch is found.
VVPAT, or, voter-verified paper audit trail, is an independent system attached to the EVM that allows the voter to verify that their vote has been cast as intended. The Supreme Court had, in April, issued directions that VVPAT slips of five electronic voting machines in every constituency be physically counted and verified. The EVMs will be randomly selected for this counting. Earlier VVPAT slips from only one EVM per assembly segment was being verified.
Former Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi pointed out that 1500 machines had been counted by 4th April 2019, as per the earlier norm of counting slips generated by one VVPAT in each assembly constituency, and not even a single mismatch was detected. He wrote, earlier this month, that in case of a mismatch the VVPAT counting will prevail and perhaps all machines in the constituency should then be counted.
Days ahead of counting, video clips, reported from Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Bihar, surfaced online which the opposition said showed alleged attempts at EVM tampering and violations of the poll process with respect to transport and storage of EVMs.
The EC dismissed the allegations as “frivolous” and “unfounded” saying the voting machines for the seven-phase polls are “absolutely safe” in strongrooms. It said the clippings circulated on TV and social media “do not pertain to any EVMs used during polls”. It said all polled EVMs and voter-verified paper audit trail units are stored in designated strongrooms, which are sealed with double locks in the presence of candidates and observers of the poll panel. The Commission also added that the entire process of storage and sealing of strongrooms is covered under videography and CCTV coverage is done till completion of counting.
But even after all this, the question is, can the EVMs really be tampered? The error rate of the VVPATs was reported to be 5%, as mentioned by former Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla. So, maybe there is something fishy going on with the polling. The election commission has attributed the glitches to direct light falling on sensors, and technical issues set off by humidity that in turn affected the thermal paper in VVPAT machines.
In a scientific study done by Hari K Prasad, a Hyderabad based technologist, Dr. J Alex Halderman, professor of computer science in the University of Michigan, and Rop Gonggrijp, a technologist from Holland, it was demonstrated simple ways to alter the election results. These attacks could be made either during the voting, between polling and vote counting sessions or even during the counting itself. These attacks require a person to be near the machine for only a brief period, and then the instructions are sent to the machine wirelessly at a later point of time. The devices used for these attacks are pocket-sized and very easy to use. All these demonstrations were done on a real EVM that had previously been used in elections.
These findings suggest that maybe EVMs are vulnerable to attacks. But based on the statements of the Election Commission, the EVMs are “infallible” and “perfect.” Also, the counting of VVPATs hasn’t shown any mismatch yet. So, it is difficult to say if there has been any tampering, considering the security measures taken by the EC. But even if there haven’t been any alterations in the votes yet, the EVMs are vulnerable to attacks in the future. Better methods are required for conducting free and fair elections in the nation. Maybe one day there will be a way to achieve this, but until then, we can only hope that the one who wins the elections is the one whom the public wanted to win.