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14 EVMs, two parties: Election Commission gears up for Saturday’s hacking challenge

Of the seven national and 65 recognised regional parties, only two have chosen to participate in the “hackathon” that will be held at the EC headquarters in Delhi.

india Updated: Jun 03, 2017 10:26 IST
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Hindustan Times
EVMs,Hacking,Election Commission
The “hackathon” will be held at the Election Commission headquarters in Delhi.(HT File Photo)

The Election Commission will use as many as 14 randomly selected electronic voting machines (EVMs) deployed during the general and state elections in Punjab, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh during the hacking challenge it is holding on Saturday to counter allegations by various opposition parties that the devices can be tampered with.

Of the seven national and 65 recognised regional parties, only two have chosen to participate in the “hackathon” that will be held between 10am and 2pm at the EC headquarters in the Capital.

The EVMs will be open for scrutiny by the teams representing the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) that accepted the poll panel’s challenge.

Other parties such as the Bharatiya Janata Party, Rashtriya Lok Dal, and Communist Party of India have “expressed their intent to observe”, an EC official said. Lalu Prasad Yadav-led Rashtriya Janata Dal’s application was rejected as it was received after the deadline.

After the BJP’s landslide victory in the UP assembly polls, such as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Trinamool Congress and the Congress had alleged that the EVMs were tampered to benefit the ruling party.

The AAP, the biggest critic of the voting machines, even held a ‘demonstration’ of an EVM being hacked inside the Delhi assembly earlier this month using a replica machine.

These parties that had raised doubts about the efficacy of the EVMs will not take part in the challenge, alleging that the EC had put in place stringent conditions that would make it impossible for them to prove the frailties of the system.

The election watchdog, on its part, stuck to its position to not bend the rules and not allow the internal circuitry of the machines to the changed. It has also refused to allow the parties to take the EVMs outside the premises during the challenge.

On Thursday night, the poll panel sent a list to the NCP giving details about the EVMs complete with their control and ballot unit numbers. The NCP had asked the EC about the specifics of the machines that were being used in the challenge.

These EVMs were brought to the Capital in sealed box boxes and the whole process was recorded on camera.

Rules of the game

Three representatives of both the parties will now have to prove that the EVMs can be hacked and use a maximum of four machines for the challenge. The poll panel has kept extra machines as a backup in the case of any eventuality. The challengers will get four hours during the challenge.

Members of a technical committee that helps the poll panel evaluate the EVMs would judge the proceedings.

The EVM challenge has been divided into two parts.

In the first, the parties will have to prove that the EVMs used in the assembly elections in the five states were tampered with to favour a particular candidate or political party by altering the results stored in them.

They will have to alter the results in the control units used during these polls in exactly the same conditions in which EVMs are kept under the technical and administrative safeguards of the EC after the elections are over.

They can use a combination of keys on EVMs or over the air communication devices such as cell phone and Bluetooth to tamper with the machine to change the results, he said.

The participants will have to prove in the second part of the challenge that the EVMs used in the assembly polls were manipulated before or on the poll day. If the EVM stops functioning due to its inbuilt anti-tampering mechanism, they would be considered to have “failed” in the challenge.

They will also be considered to have failed if it shows the result of the booth where it was used during the assembly polls even after manipulation.

(With PTI inputs)

First Published: Jun 02, 2017 15:39 IST