ENSURE SAFETY AND SECURITY

ENSURE SAFETY AND SECURITY

Nothing more can come, just before the impending elections, in this form of PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION, (PIL), When a lawyer based in Tamil Nadu has moved the Supreme Court on April 16th, 2019, that is on yesterday, seeking directions to the Election Commission of India to ensure the safety and security of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) during the post-poll period.

M. Srinivasan, who is an advocate and the President of the Tamil Nadu Annal Ambedkar Law Association, has sought for the EVMs to be protected by the Election Commission against any possible tampering during the period between the end of casting of votes and their counting.

It is submitted that the first phase of voting in the General Elections this year has cast a doubt in the minds of the general public about the “FOOLPROOF functioning of the EVMs”. The petitioner cites the Press Conference held by various opposition leaders on April 14 to back his claim.

Further, the petitioner also raises apprehension about the impartial functioning of the Election Commission.

“The only statutory and administrative check available to protect and preserve the confidence in the EVM’S was in the hands of the Election Commission of India but what is the ground reality is the very impartial functioning of Election Commission of India is at stake”.

To buttress this claim, the petitioner has placed reliance on news articles pertaining to a letter written to the President of India by over 60 Bureaucrats and Ambassadors where the impartial functioning of the Election Commission has been questioned. In that letter, the signatories have also expressed “their deepest anguish on the all-time low knee conduct of Election Commission of India”.

Thus the petitioner has expressed his apprehension as regards the possibility of EVMs being tampered in the post-poll period. The number of days between the polling and the date of counting of votes is high, further adding to petitioner’s apprehensions. 

The petitioner has thus prayed for the Supreme Court to issue directions to the Election Commission to ensure that the EVMs remain safe and secure and are not tampered with, during this period.

AN EXPLAINER-What happens to an EVM before and after you cast your vote: The ECI follows a series of processes to ensure that the EVMs used, are not tampered with before and after the polling. As some have already cast their votes or are yet to vote, as the elections are conducted till May 19th 2019, the next big question is, what happens to the EVMs and where does it go after polling? Here is an insight at how EVs are stored well as the security measures adopted by ECI to ensure EVMs safety and security as well.

The ECI has put in place a series of processes to ensure that none of the EVMs used and going to be in elections is tampered with. The processes which are to be followed, happen at two stages. PRE-POLLS AND POST POLLS. To ensure the integrity of EVMs during pre-polls, the EC has taken the following measures:

PRE-POLL PROCEDURES

·        Engineers from Bharat Electronics Limited and Electronics Corporation of India Limited, which supply the EVMs, certify the originality of components after technical and physical examination of each machine. This is the first step taken in the security process called the First Level Checks (FLCs), a task that is completed in front of the representatives of various political parties.

·        EVMs that are found defective are then and there, immediately sent back to the factory.

·        The State EC, ensures that the room where EVMs are stored is fully sanitised, that is, free of any other electronic device or components of electronic devices. Entry to the hall is restricted and guarded by the State Police. No person is allowed to carry a camera, mobile phone or spy device to the hall.

·        The State EC, then conducts a mock poll of at least 1000 votes on 10% of randomly selected EVMs. This is done in front of the candidates or their representatives. The results are then shown to them. The State EC also records the entire process on video.

·        The EVMs are then randomized twice before they are allocated to an assembly and then to a polling booth. The aim is to rule out any fixed allocation.

·        On the day of the polling, after the EVMs reach the polling booth, one more mock poll is conducted in front of polling agents before the polling starts.

POST POLLS

Once the polling is over, the State EC will follow these steps to ensure the EVMs security:

·        Once the polling for the day ends, the EVMs are sealed. The polling agents put their signatures on the seal. From here on, the EVMs will be guarded by Central Paramilitary Forces.

·        The EVMs are then taken to a secure storage centre called the STRONG ROOM. These strong rooms are guarded 24X7 with round-the-clock CCTV coverage of the rooms with power backup. The polling agents can go up to the strong room during the transportation of EVMs.

·        The candidates can put their own seals on the strong room door. The EC also allows representatives to camp in front of strong rooms.

·        The EVMs are then brought to the counting centres and unique IDs of the seals and control unit are shown to representatives of candidates before the counting starts. The counting staff and agents take note of the votes cast for each candidate in the serial number.

The ECI has been consistently claiming that its EVMs are unique and that tampering is not feasible under real election conditions with its security protocol and administrative safeguards in place. There have also been demands to revert back to paper ballots. Confidence in the integrity of EVMs is important for voters to trust the outcomes of elections. The ECI cannot allow this confidence to be eroded.

It is true that Indian EVMs cannot be hacked because they are not connected to any network and their software is “BURNT” into the CPU and cannot be rewritten after manufacture. But what if dishonest insiders and criminals get physical access to the EVMs and replace the EVMs non hackable CPU with a look-like but hackable CPU that can be programmed to count votes dishonestly together with an embedded blue tooth device that allows it to be remote controlled? All the features and safeguards relied on by the ECI can be easily negated by insider fraud for which there is scope at three stages:

·        At the EVMs manufacturing stage

·        At the district level, during the long non-election period when the EVMs are stored in archaic warehouses in multiple locations with inadequate security systems

·        At the stage of “FIRST LEVEL CHECKS” prior to an election when the EVMs are serviced by authorised technicians from the EVM manufacturers.

The threats are real but luckily, the remedies are simple and effective:

·        Use of authentication units before the polls to weed out counterfeit/tampered EVMs.

·        Effective use of VOTER VERIFIED PAPER AUDIT TRAIL system at the time of counting to guard against EVM tampering or malfunction. Both are essential.

These are some of the pointers towards the EVMs. Despite all the hindrances posed to the Election Commission of India, their tryst to conduct this election without any impediment, in all fairness, being neutral, is really to be appreciated and commendable. Let us not get deviated by these public interest litigations, which are being made for the sole purpose of confusing the general public rather than, make it seem as though people are wanting to address their apprehensions through such frivolous litigations. Let peace polling prevail before and after with the EVMS, safety, security ENSURED!!

 

ELECTION COMMISSION OF INDIA IS AN IMPARTIAL FUNCTIONARY WHOSE ONLY DUTY IS TO SEE THAT THE ELECTIONS HAPPEN WITHOUT ANY HITCH FOR THE PEOPLE TO CHOOSE THEIR NEXT ELECT FAVOURITE LEADER!!

 

VIJAYASHREE RAMESH, ADVOCATE & SOCIAL ACTIVIST.