Ahead of the results of the Lok Sabha elections on 23 May, several opposition parties have raised concerns over the possible “manipulation” of Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) and their unauthorised transportation.
The opposition parties are demanding tallying of VVPAT slips with EVM figures in an entire Assembly constituency in case a discrepancy is found in any polling booth.
The Supreme Court has asked the EC to tally the VVPAT slips with the EVM figures of five polling stations in each Assembly constituency across the country, which may delay the results.
The Election Commission, however, has denied the opposition’s charges and said proper protocol was followed.
What have opposition leaders said?
Opposition parties have issued advisories to their workers to guard the strong rooms where EVMs are kept. Samajwadi Party, according to News18, has asked its workers to guard the strong rooms in shifts of eight hours each.
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, while asking her party workers to not be disheartened by the exit poll results (which predict that NDA will have a clear majority), has also urged them to be alert at their respective booths.
The Bahujan Samaj Party, according to the News18 report, has also asked its workers to guard the strong rooms and to match the EVM numbers so that they can’t be changed at the time of counting.
After the exit polls predicted a sweeping victory for the BJP, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted that she doesn’t trust “exit poll gossip” and the “game plan is to manipulate or replace thousands of EVMs through this gossip”.
Can EVMs actually be hacked?
There has been a raging debate over EVM hacking, with Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Saurabh Bharadwaj even staging a live demonstration of EVM manipulation in the Delhi Assembly in 2017.
The Election Commission noted at the time that the machine used by Bharadwaj was a “look-alike” gadget and not an actual equipment used by it.
Back in 2010, researchers at University of Michigan claimed that they developed a technique to hack into Indian EVMs, BBC reported. The Election Commission told BBC, “It is not just the machine, but the overall administrative safeguards which we use that make it absolutely impossible for anybody to open the machine.”
Former Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla had also argued that the equipment cannot be hacked or manipulated as they are not accessible through external machines and are kept under the surveillance of senior government officials.
A Scroll explainer corroborated this, saying that the EVMs in India do not have programs that can be changed without physically altering the machine; they do not even have an operating system.
“Therefore, one major pre-requisite for hacking – of being able to change the program externally – does not exist in the system.”
Despite this, opposition parties raised multiple complaints about EVM hacking around the assembly elections as well.
Following the opposition’s concerns that the EVMs can be tampered, the Election Commission had announced that “there shall be 100% use of the VVPAT system during the Lok Sabha election this year to gain voter confidence.”
With no conclusive proof that EVMs can be hacked, videos have surfaced of EVMs being moved.
What about these rumours about EVM transportation?
Several videos have surfaced on Twitter which show EVMs being stored or transported to unauthorised locations and Opposition leaders have raised similar doubts.
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor retweeted a video showing a truck full of EVMs entering a strong room without any verification of documents in Haryana.
Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Tejashwi Yadav also raised questions and said that visuals and claims of sudden movement of EVMs were being observed across north India.
In Uttar Pradesh’s Ghazipur, Bahujan Samaj Party candidate Afzal Ansari had held a sit-in outside the local strongroom. According to News18, he had alleged that there was an attempt to take out a vehicle full of EVMs. The Election Commission said the matter has been resolved.
AAP has also raised similar concerns:
A video from Chandauli has also surfaced, which shows EVMs being off-loaded and put in a room inside the counting centre complex.
What has the EC said and what are its guidelines?
The Election Commission has dismissed reports and allegations of EVMs being transported without proper security in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
The administration also said the machines seen in the video are about 35 reserve EVM units from an assembly segment in Chandauli, according to NDTV.
In a press release, the commission clarified that all reports and allegations of alleged movement of EVMs are “absolutely false” and “factually incorrect”
The Election Commission’s guidelines say that after the completion of voting, polled EVMs shall be escorted back to the strong room for storing in double lock system in the presence of candidates, under videography.
Regarding transportation, it says that all trucks transporting the EVMs and VVPATs shall be sealed with proper locks and sealed. Political parties should be informed in advance about opening, stocking and scaling of warehouses while shifting EVMs and VVPATs.
(With PTI inputs)