Are Indian authorities planning to hack the next election?

 

S. Kumar

The next state assembly elections for Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh (HP) are due in the coming months. The election in HP is scheduled on 9 Nov'17 and result will be declared on 18 Dec'17. The state has about 5 million registered voters.

vvapt

Further, the election in Gujarat will be held across 28,639 polling locations for 182 assembly constituencies. The state has 43.3 million registered voters as in Sep'17. The election will be scheduled on 9th and 14th Dec with results on 18 Dec'2017 to ensure that HP election results do not impact Gujrat election.

The Election Commission (EC) has announced that VVPAT machine (EVM machines with printers) will be used for both the elections for all assembly seats. Gujarat and HP will be the only states after Goa where VVPATs will be used in all the polling stations.

Many people have raised objections on EC's decision to declare HP election dates without announcing Gujarat poll dates. However, this controversy could have been easily avoided as Gujarat polls will be held prior to 18 Dec'17.

The possible mass election manipulation is bigger than what everyone is discussing. The suspected election manipulation earlier done during UP election by EVM hacking is expected to get repeated again this time. Even though Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) i.e. EVM with printer will be used, the potential election manipulation by the machine is not expected to be solved.

During the announcement, the Election Commission has declared that it will verify votes through paper trail in one booth of each constituency. The booths would be chosen randomly to serve as a pilot for future polls. [1]

Just a few months ago in July'17, previous election commissioner had announced that paper receipts in a minimum 5% booths (minimum 5 and maximum 14) in each polling station of each assembly seat will be tallied. The announcement is absurd given that so many people have questioned the EVM functioning and many previous elections have been suspected to have been hacked using EVM machines.

The earlier plan of 5% recounting was equally absurd, given that if sampling of vote count was the solution then we don't need voting across all polling stations. Now even tallying of papaer receipts of minimum 5% votes is not required, as counting of paper receipts will be done in only one booth in each assembly seat. What has caused the election commission to go back on its own commitment?

If cost and time is such a big issue for Election Commission, the counting of paper receipts in even one booth can also be done away with and the results can be declared by just doing survey like pre and post poll surveys. This can save a lot of cost for the election commission and the poor Government!!

The election manipulation using EVM has multiple means with common aim. The aim is to make a losing candidate winner in the election. This EVM manipulation can be done either at recording stage or at counting stage. VVPAT solves only the vote recording problem by printing paper, to be tallied with digital recording on the memory chip. As the memory chip reliability is already questionable (that's why paper print is required using VVPAT), only reliable record of votes is paper receipt which is verified visually by the voters.

What will happen if the recording of votes in the paper format is not recognized? If the paper receipt is not counted, then recording of votes in paper format has absolutely no meaning and any possible manipulation in digital recording will go unnoticed.

This is exactly the way coming assembly election process is designed for HP and Gujarat elections. Any possible manipulation on EVM /VVPAT digital recording of votes will remain under cover as the paper receipts will not be counted.

Further, the Election Commission has put additional rules to deter the voters from complaining against VVPAT and avoiding recounting of paper receipts.

Rules to deter Voter complaints against VVPAT malfunctioning

 To deter any possible allegation, following rules have been devised against the citizen who wishes to expose the malfunctioning of VVPAT machines:

A voter can lodge a complaint if the slip generated by the VVPAT printer shows the name and symbol of the candidate other than for whom the elector has voted for using the button. The voter will have to fill up a declaration to formally lodge a complaint and should be ready to cast a test vote to show that the allegation made by him is "true and bona fide".

But if the complaint is found to be false, action under section 177 of the Indian Penal Code relating to 'furnishing false information' could be initiated against the voter. The declaration to be signed by the complainant mentions that punishment under section 177 of IPC is jail term up to six months and a fine of Rs one thousand. [2]

The fundamental flaw in this entire rule is that the complainant has absolutely no idea what is inside the EVM machine. An electronic machine can provide very absurd output based on its internal programming. The machine can be designed to print correct receipts based on pressed button 95 out of 100 times, while for remaining 5 times it can print wrong receipts completely based on internal programming. How can a novice voter understand what is inside the EVM programming? Hence, punishing the voter for unreliable EVM functioning is completely wrong.

 Recounting rules for paper receipts

Election Commission has prescribed additional rules for recounting of paper receipts. The Returning Officer shall pass a speaking order on counting after considering following[3]:

 i) Whether total number of votes polled in that polling station is more or less than the margin of votes between the winning candidate and the applicant

 ii) Whether EVM met with any defect and was replaced at that polling station during poll

 iii) Whether there was any complaint about the VVPAT not printing the paper slips or complaint under rule 49MA by any voter in that polling station during the poll.

Further, 49MA reads: Where a printer is used, if an elector after having recorded his/her vote alleges that the paper slip generated by the printer has shown the name or symbol of a candidate other than the one he/she voted for, the Presiding Officer shall obtain a written declaration from the elector on the veracity of the allegation, after warning him/her of the consequence of making a false statement.

"The demand for VVPAT vote counting will be accepted provided it can influence the ultimate results of a constituency," Regarding why recounting cannot be done for an entire constituency, the Election Commission says, "It is a thermal paper which is very difficult to separate. Then you will need creation of additional infrastructure like pigeon holes for all candidates, additional staff for counting."

The above conditions for recounting stipulated by EC are absolutely absurd. Is there any relationship of winning margin with polling station votes? Or what has EVM malfunctioning or paper printing problem in any particular machine anything to do with EVM / VVPAT programming manipulation on other machines? What if the EVM machines are hacked which are not suspected by the voters and contesting parties. What if a foreign nation, as many components are imported from foreign nations, try to hack the election by EVM manipulation?

Further, the rationale given by Election Commission, that the thermal paper used in printers is difficult to separate and additional infrastructure is required for counting paper receipts, is laughable. The Election Commission claiming to have cutting edge technology cannot print paper receipts which are separable easily? Is the self-proclaimed emerging superpower nation unable to instal supporting infrastructure for counting of votes?

Paper receipts counting is the only way to ensure that the polling results reflect the wish of the voters, as visually verified during the polling on paper receipts. There is absolutely no way sample survey and random selection can ensure that every vote is counted properly. The whole foundation of democracy is based on One Person, One Vote and One Value.

The trust level of the people in the Election Commission is fast declining. It's high time for the EC to come up with transparent and accountable processes to bridge the trust deficit created during the last few years. Any complacency by the Election Commission will be perceived as a proof of its hand-in-glove relationship with the election manipulators.

~

Notes

[1] http://indianexpress.com/article/india/ec-to-tally-paper-trail-slips-with-evms-in-5-pc-booths-in-each-assembly-seat-4737936/

[2] http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/faulty-evm-voters-free-to-complain-but-may-face-action-for-false-claim/

[3] http://eci.nic.in/eci_main1/current/presentation_evm_20052017.pdf

~~~

 

S Kumar is an Engineering and Management graduate from top institutes.

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