EVM Hackathon or Fake-athon?

By Ashwin Tombat
28 May 2017 21:53 IST

Only two parties — Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Communist Party of India - Marxist (CPI-M) — have agreed to participate in the Election Commission's (EC's) 'EVM Challenge' on 3 June, dubbed a 'Hackathon' by the media. This is hardly surprising. Given the EC's onerous terms and conditions, only a magician could rig an Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) next Saturday.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) says that those pointing fingers are the EVMs are 'sore losers'. This is surprising. The party's leaders were the first in the country to say that EVMs could be rigged...  

After the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, BJP leader L K Advani raised doubts about EVMs and demanded that ballot papers be re-introduced. He was backed by present HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar and present Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. Present BJP Spokesman G V L Narasimha Rao wrote a book denouncing EVMs called 'Democracy At Risk! Can We Trust Our Electronic Voting Machines?' with a foreword by Advani.

The EC says that EVMs cannot be tampered with. But it is refusing to allow anyone to actually try tampering with the machines. In next Saturday's challenge, 'hackers' can only press the buttons on the machine or use external devices. They are not allowed to open the machines or actually 'tamper' with them in any way.

What's the use then?

A group of 31 experts, most of whom are IIT graduates and senior executives in IT companies, have written an open letter to the EC. It points out that EVMs are made by two companies —  Electronics Corporation of India Ltd (ECIL) and Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) — with embedded software from Japan and hardware from the USA. In a long cycle of design, manufacture, testing, storage, maintenance, calibration and deployment, these EVMs pass through the hands of hundreds if not thousands of corporate and government employees. So the possibility of 'insider' tampering simply cannot be ruled out.


They point out that the voting machine has three parts — the balloting unit, the control unit and the cable that links the two. Tampering with either of the units, or simply substituting the original cable with a near-identical rigged version, is sufficient to manipulate the voting.

Tampered EVMs can be made to exchange the highest number of votes with another, so that the winner loses. Or a cell phone could enter the number of the candidate who should win, and manipulate other votes to avoid detection. The EVM would do nothing if there is no cell phone signal, thus avoiding detection in pre-poll tests.

Such EVMs could also be manipulated by a code entered into the EVM; say first button, then seventh button, then eighth, etc. This could be done by a 'real' voter waiting in line, so the EVM behaves perfectly when tested pre-poll.

Big software and hardware companies actually pay 'ethical' hackers high salaries to find flaws in their product, so they can safeguard it. But the EC is doing the opposite. It is preventing hackers from finding flaws in the EVMs. Is this the way to safeguard democracy?

To make this hackathon meaningful, techies authorised by political parties should be allowed to physically tamper with EVMs. They should get design documents, test results, and information about the security each generation of EVMs uses. The results of each team 'hacking' the EVMs should be made public.

A team of experts should tackle each security vulnerability discovered. The EC should publicly fix a timeline for solving each issue. This process should be openly conducted before every general election. Eternal vigilance is the price of democracy and freedom. The EC should not stick its head in the sand like an ostrich.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

Blogger's Profile

Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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Previous Comments

HACKATHON should be open to all Indian Citizens and to all Political Parties. This is to Save India’s Democracy. Indians voting right has been robbed by this so called EVM Manipulators.

ECI should allow anyone to come forward and Tamper EVM in front of the Media.

ECI must not give any Conditions. It should be open without any time set or conditions.

If anyone succeeds in Tampering EVM then immediately ECI must Ban EVM and start Ballot Paper. Henceforth all Elections in India must be conduct through Ballot Paper only.

- Jack De Goan, Goa | 29 th May 2017 21:20


Opening up the machine and physically tempering with it is a law order issue. Because in that case the seals must be broken and bugs introduced or physical alteration performed to mess with the way machine functions. This a kin to messing up with a conventional ballot box by throwing in or removing already cast votes. In this case it is not machines fault.

People like Kejriwal who routinely accuse tempering of machine after the shellacking they receive should now come forward and tell us how their opponents did it. Their argument is electronic inside is not safe and can be easily altered. Show us how it or just shut up.

- DCN, GOA | 29 th May 2017 17:15


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