File photo: An Electronic Voting Machine (EVM). Photograph: (Others)
EVMs in India are standalone machines and are not connected to any network
There has been a growing concern around the use and reliability of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) used in India.
The debate has become so fiercely polarised that it has left a group of political parties and the Election Commission divided into two.
Political parties have been alleging that EVMs continue to be tampered with in elections, and therefore, they are urging the Election Commission to revert to the paper ballot system in future elections. The Election Commission, on the other hand, is confident of the purported hack-proof technology behind these machines. So much that the ECI has thrown an "open challenge" daring experts, technocrats, scientists and citizens to hack into their voting machines.
While unverified videos on the Internet, rumour mongers and other speculations have fuelled that EVMs can be tampered with, there is no concrete evidence to validate such claims. Instead, the ECI aims to explain how these machines are hack-proof and why EVMs used in India cannot be compared with the ones used abroad.
As explained by the ECI, we bring you the technology behind EVMs in India. It will help you in getting a better understanding of vulnerabilities of these machines and their hacking possibilities, if any.
An Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) in India consists of two units - a Control Unit and a Balloting Unit, which is joined by a five-metre cable. The Control Unit is with the Presiding Officer or a Polling Officer and the Balloting Unit is kept inside the voting compartment. The Polling Officer in-charge of the Control Unit presses the Ballot Button, and this, in turn, enables the voter to cast his vote by pressing the blue button on the Balloting Unit against the candidate and symbol of his choice.
As ECI explains, the EVM in India is a fully standalone machine and is not connected to any network. And therefore, there is no provision for any input. In other words, these electronic voting machines cannot be remotely accessed by hackers - which generally happens in other hacking incidents where machines are connected to the Internet.
In addition to that, the software in the ECI-EVM chip is one time programmable and is burnt into the chip at the time of manufacture. Nothing can be written on the chip after it is manufactured. The microchip used in EVMs is sealed at the time of import. There is, therefore, no chance of programming the EVMs in a particular way to select any particular candidate or political party, claims the Election Commission of India.
Unlike in India, most of the systems used in other countries are PC-based and run on operating systems. Hence, those machines could be vulnerable to hacking. ECI, therefore, believes that no comparison can be made between EVMs used in India and the ones used in foreign countries.
Also, the EVMs in India are programmed in such a way that the machines can record only five votes in a minute. So even if these machines are forcibly taken away by miscreants, they can record only a maximum of 150 votes in half-an-hour. And chances are that by that time, appropriate measures would have been taken and police reinforcement would have arrived.