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EVM challenge a dud, but EC calls it ‘extraordinary’ move to quell doubts

The EC-held Open Challenge came a cropper with most prominent Opposition parties – such as the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party – staying away because the rules wouldn’t allow them to tamper with the EVM circuitry.

india Updated: Jun 03, 2017 23:45 IST
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Election Commission,electronic voting machine,EVM
CPI-M representatives check out an EVM machine during the ‘open challenge’ in New Delhi on Saturday.(Photo: PIB)

The Election Commission’s Open Challenge for political parties to prove the alleged rigging of electronic voting machines (EVMs) went unanswered on Saturday, with nobody coming forward to demonstrate how they can be manipulated.

While representatives of two political parties – the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) – turned up at the event, they left after making technical enquiries on how EVMs function.

The poll panel said it hoped the controversy would die down, now that Opposition parties have not succeeded in coming up with any evidence of EVM tampering.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) refused to accept the poll panel’s challenge, with party chief spokesperson Saurabh Bhardwaj dubbing it as “mere eyewash”. It instead decided to conduct a parallel EVM tampering challenge, for which the registration process has already been launched on the party website. No date has been fixed for the event yet.

“AAP will conduct a parallel hackathon/demonstration of its own EVM prototype under the same conditions proposed by the Election Commission – only visual inspection and pressing of keys will be allowed. No other hardware or software manipulation will be allowed,” said Bhardwaj.

Though the poll panel claimed that both the NCP and CPI-M were “satisfied” with the demonstration, representatives of the Sharad Pawar-led party said they still harbour doubts.

The CPI-M, however, told HT that it was convinced by the exercise. “We held an hour-long discussion with technical experts of the poll panel,” said Bappa Aditya Sinha, an IT professional representing the party. “We had already said we were attending the event only for academic purposes.”

The NCP’s Vandana Chavan said while the poll panel’s announcement that all future elections would be held through VVPAT or paper trail machines has come as a “big relief”, doubts about EVMs remain.

“We knew it would not be possible to tamper with the machines in four hours. We were not provided details and serial numbers of the ballot and control units, which were needed for taking up the challenge. We also wanted to know if the people who burnt the programme into the EVM chip were above suspicion. The challenge is not to confront the poll panel but to ensure a fair democratic process,” the Rajya Sabha member added.

Chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi said the poll panel has offered the NCP another opportunity to take up the EVM challenge or study it as an academic exercise.

“Our technical team treated them to a detailed demonstration of the entire process. They sought an interaction with our technical experts, and after expressing complete satisfaction, suggested that the commission proactively hold demonstrations and awareness sessions with the technical community to allay doubts like these in the future,” he added.

Zaidi said the poll panel could not provide the NCP with the EVMs’ memory (card) and battery numbers because the machines were sealed. “We told them that the party can access these numbers at the time of the challenge by opening the machines.”

The NCP and the poll panel also had a disagreement over the voting machines chosen for the challenge. The party representatives, in a letter, objected to the last-minute change in the EVM selection protocol by asking them to pick one from a list of 14 machines.

When they told the election commission that their suspicions were related to EVMs used in the Maharashtra municipal elections, the latter clarified that it does not provide machines for urban local body polls.

Zaidi said using VVPAT machines along with EVMs at polling stations in future elections would bring transparency into the voting system. “The audit trail will enhance the confidence and trust of voters. Using VVPATs with EVMs must put to rest all doubts and misgivings regarding the machines,” he said.

The Communist Party of India, meanwhile, criticised the poll panel for not allowing it to witness the EVM challenge. Questioning the motive behind denying its request, the party said the poll watchdog’s “approach of secrecy” went against the spirit of the election commission’s invitation letter – which sought the cooperation of all political organisations.

In a related development, Zaidi said the poll panel would take action against anybody who indulges in “unhealthy criticism” of the poll panel’s EVM challenge because doing so would constitute violating a judicial order. The Uttarakhand high court court had dismissed a petition challenging the constitutionality of the EVM challenge on Friday, stating that there was no scope of doubting the “fair working” of the machines.

(With inputs from Jatin Gandhi)

First Published: Jun 03, 2017 18:57 IST