BJP’s long fight against EVM: until it started working in favour?

Mayawati, supremo of the Bahujan Samaj Party, has, after her party’s sub-par seat wins in the recently concluded elections to the UP state assembly, publicly voiced her suspicion of India’s electronic voting machines.

So has the Aam Aadmi Party, which was given a decent probability to notch its first win to a “proper” state assembly in Punjab. They have been warning about the possibility of EVM-tempering for a few months now.

With almost no exception, the mainstream news media, has condemned these suspicions as the habitual rants of sore losers. Even “neutral” commentators and those seen to be critical of Narendra Modi have made it a point to question the timing of the suspicions.

“Why now, why not in all these years when other parties were winning elections through votes counted by the same EVMs?”, it’s being asked,

It’s good to be not let prejudice overcome objectivity. Being forgotten, however is the is the cold fact that no party has been so vociferous in its condemnation of India’s voting machines as the BJP.

In the late 2000s, a BJP-sponsored campaign, using local and foreign experts, custom-built NGOs and ‘think-tanks’ such as the Vivekananda Foundation. had highlighted the vulnerability of India’s EVMs to tampering, fraud and manipulation.

Part of the campaign was the book, “ Democracy At Risk! Can We Trust Our Electronic Voting Machines?”,  authored by GVL Narasimha Rao with a foreword by LK Advani, and appreciative messages by Chandra Babu Naidu and voting systems expert Prof David Dill of Stanford University

The book is available here for download:  http://www.indianevm.com/book_democracy_at_risk_2010.pdf

The book is centred around a research paper by Hari Prasad, Rop Gonggrijp and J. Alex Halderman

Wikipedia lists Rop Gonggrijp as a hacker and founder of XS4ALL, a Dutch internet services provider that sponsors and hosts the sites of many free software projects, like PythonSquirrelmail and Debian.

Alex Halderman is Professor of Computer Science & Engineering, University of Michigan, specialising in computer privacy and security,

And Hari Prasad? He is founder of NetIndia. a Hyderabad-based  “IP Surveillance & Streaming Systems & Solutions” company .

Hari Prasad was arrested in August 2010 for allegedly stealing an EVM from the Mumbai Collector’s office..Hari Prasad said that the EVM was given to him by an anonymous source to test for security vulnerabilities. It was accepted by one and all, including the EC,  that the EVM he and the other experts took apart was 100% genuine.

Among his vocal and ferocious defenders was Subramanian Swamy.

Hari Prasad’s mug shot is also present on the home page of VeTA,

The home page of VeTA, www.indianevm.com.  describes VeTA as “an independent national level Citizens’ Forum for promoting Verifiability, Transparency and Accountability in Indian Elections. The Forum is a civil society initiative involving some of the best known computer experts, political scientists, public activists, administrators, academicians, legal professionals etc.”

Hari Prasad is listed  on the site as the Technical Coordinator of VeTA.

VeTA is headed by GVL Narasimha Rao, a current BJP spokesperson.

Bottomline: If there is one party in India that has a first hand understanding of the vulnerability of our EVMs, it is the BJP, because senior members of the party have been closely involved with the ‘expert’ who managed to steal, according to the EC, an original EVM.

To be fair to the BJP, they took their job of being India’s main opposition party in Parliament seriously. They went to town with their findings. Subsequently, the Supreme Court, in 2012, directed the EC to upgrade the EVMs to include a paper trail.

The Court’s exact words: “From the materials placed by both the sides, we are satisfied that the “paper trail” is an indispensable requirement of free and fair elections. The confidence of the voters in the EVMs can be achieved only with the introduction of the “paper trail”. EVMs with VVPAT system ensure the accuracy of the voting system. With an intent to have fullest transparency in the system and to restore the confidence of the voters, it is necessary to set up EVMs with VVPAT system because vote is nothing but an act of expression which has immense importance in democratic system.”

https://indiankanoon.org/doc/113840870/

GVL Naramsimha Rao had stated in his book that “the distrust among political leaders of all hues in voting machines is so high that most losers are wondering if they had been unfairly defeated in polls. It is about time India shunned paperless voting to make its election outcomes verifiable and auditable.”

In LS2104, VVPATs were piloted in 8 of 543 constituencies. No complaints were reported. In one of them, Mizoram, an independent won

The recently held Punjab assembly elections saw VVPATs used in 33 of the 117 constituencies. Reports were that 35% paper-trail machines encounter technical snags

VVPATs were reported to have been used in all of Goa’s assembly constituencies. .No gripes reported there.

It is being hoped that, at the very least, VVPATs will be used in the coming Delhi municipal elections.

Will the VVPATs make our election outcomes more verifiable and auditable? If one goes by the concerns originally raised by the BJP in 2010, no.

According to Wikipedia,

  • The introduction of malicious software into a VVPAT system can cause it to intentionally misrecord the voter’s selections. This attack could minimize detection by manipulating only a small percentage of the votes or for only lesser known races.
  • Another security concern is that a VVPAT could print while no voter is observing the paper trail, a form of ballot stuffing. Even if additional votes were discovered through matching to the voters list, it would be impossible to identify legitimate ballots from fraudulent ballots.
  • Alternatively the printer could invalidate the printed record after the voter leaves and print a new fraudulent ballot. These ballots would be undetectable as invalidated ballots are quite common during elections.]Also, VVPAT systems that are technically able to reverse the paper feed could be open to manipulated software overwriting or altering the VVPAT after the voter checks it.

Most important, while VVPAT is designed to serve as a check on DRE (Direct Recording Electronic) vote recorders, it relies on the same proprietary programming and electronics to produce the audit trail.

With the EC refusing to move from its old position of getting the manufacturers ECIL and BEL to self-certify the old EVMs as well the recently introduced VVPATs, it seems that the only way to get India’s voting system to be audited and tested is through the courts and public demonstrations.

Now that the BJP is comfortably in government, it has no incentive to restart old fights. Its control over a none-secure system, the vulnerabilities of which it knows too well, gives it a competitive advantage. The Congress and the other major parties, especially the regional parties, either do not have the stomach for a fight or have made peace with whatever crumbs are thrown their way.

That leaves the AAP, the TMC, the communist parties to speak up. If they don’t, it up to us citizens. Our democratic freedoms, which our founding fathers fought so hard to win and establish, cannot be held hostage to any party, ideology, or “constitutional authority”

 

 

 

  • K SHESHU BABU

    Transparency should be a corner Stone of democratic elections. But that is what the nation lacks woefully. When paper ballots were caste, the ballot boxes were stolen. Now, when EVMs are introduced, they are being remote ‘ controlled’ . In this situation, the voters confidence in the system might go down