DESPITE RAISING doubts over the Election Commission’s assertion that electronic voting machines are tamper-proof, only three political parties — CPM, NCP and RJD — on Friday came forward and accepted the poll panel’s invitation to all state and national parties to prove allegations of EVM tampering. RJD’s application, however, was rejected by the Commission as it was received after the 5 pm deadline. The ‘EVM Challenge’ will be held on June 3 and wind up in just four hours as opposed to the EC’s expectation that it would last up to five days.
Opting out, the main Opposition Congress wrote to the poll panel saying that the “extensive terms and conditions” will prevent challengers from conducting a thorough test of the EVMs. However, Congress leader and former law minister M Veerappa Moily, during whose tenure EVMs were introduced, said he would be satisfied if the Commission introduced a voter-verifiable paper audit trail.
“If the audit slip is included, that will be enough. I can proudly say that EVMs are part of the electoral reforms propagated, implemented by the Congress party. But while implementing it, there may be some flaws… it is the duty of EC to remove those doubts,” Moily told The Indian Express.
The Aam Aadmi Party, which claimed that EVMs were tampered with after it was defeated in the Punjab assembly and MCD elections, opted out claiming that the conditions laid down by the EC for the challenge were “unfair”. The Congress and AAP had sought permission to work on the EVM’s motherboard, which was shot down by the Commission. As many as 16 parties had approached the Commission in April, demanding that elections be held using ballot papers until their concerns are addressed. They told the poll panel that the trust deficit among parties in the electronic devices is “too deep seated and pervasive”.
“Our team is going. We have sent a letter today,” CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury said. The NCP has nominated three representatives — Rajya Sabha MP Vandana Chavan, Gaurav Jayprakash Jachak and Yasin Hussain Shaikh — for the challenge. Since the NCP has not identified any specific machines, the Commission will arrange for EVMs used in the assembly polls held in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab, said EC spokesperson Rajesh Malhotra.
That apart, three parties — CPI, BJP and RLD — have expressed an interest in observing the challenge. The All India NR Congress, formed by former Puducherry Chief Minister N Rangaswamy, has informed the EC formally that it will not participate in the challenge.
“We raised the issue only expressing concern that several political parties expressed their doubt about EVMs and the Election Commission should take into consideration all these developments. We never said that we are challenging it and all that. We will send an observer to participate,” CPI General Secretary S Sudhakar Reddy said.
The Congress, in a letter to the Election Commission, said that “the extensive terms and conditions that this challenge imposes prevent challengers to conduct a thorough test of the EVMs”.
“The EVM machine is composed of more components apart from the control unit and the ballot unit. If challengers don’t have access to all components — such as the motherboard — that constitute an EVM, how will they demonstrate their concerns? The EC must factor the possibility that those who would try and tamper with EVMs in real life scenario can do so without pressing buttons on the CU or BU or do it before/after the EVMs are in the control room,” Congress leader Randeep Surjewala wrote to Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi.
The AAP, too, had demanded that experts be allowed to change the machines’ motherboard to be able to demonstrate hacking.
But the EC replied that “allowing any change of the motherboard or any internal circuit of the EVM is like saying that anyone should be permitted to manufacture a new machine and introduce newly made EVMs in EC system, which is implausible and irrational”.
On June 3, to prove tampering allegations, representatives will have to demonstrate that poll results can be doctored by either pressing a combination of keys on the control unit or ballot unit of the EVM or both, or by communicating with the EVM through an external wireless device or bluetooth or mobile phone.
The parties would be deemed to have failed the challenge if the EVM shuts down after their tampering attempts, the voting results remain unchanged, the challenger violates the EC’s guidelines or the expert withdraws.
The EC’s EVM challenge is being held to allay apprehensions regarding the machines, which have been in use since the year 2000. Over the last 17 years, EVMs have been deployed for conducting 107 Assembly elections and three Lok Sabha polls.
The machines were also at the centre of a controversy in 2004, after the BJP was shocked by the Congress in that year’s general elections.
The controversy has been revived by the Opposition parties that were routed in the recent Assembly elections in five states. The BSP was the first to complain, with Mayawati alleging that largescale EVM tampering was behind the BJP sweep in UP.
Later, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal challenged the EC to make EVMs available to the party for 72 hours and claimed that “we will read the code and rewrite it too”.
In 2009, EC had held a similar challenge in which 100 machine samples from Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh were provided for scrutiny. At that time, no one could demonstrate any tampering or hacking of the machines.