Election Commission Open Hackathon Challenge

In Delhi on Tuesday 9th May, what took place at the assembly left everyone amused, while corruption charges remained the hot agenda, Delhi CM conducted a special session to demonstrate on how EVM (Electronic Voting Machines) can be ‘tampered’. This is an issue the party has been raising since it faced embarrassing defeats in Punjab and Goa and the recent MCD elections in Delhi.

AAP (Aam Aadmi Party ) MLA from Greater Kailash, Saurabh Bharadwaj who was also a software engineer before joining politics claimed that the EVM machines can be tampered using a secret code that can be inserted in the machine. He gave a live demonstration to the session on how the EVM machine can be tampered.

Election EVM
Source: Google Images

Both AAP and BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) had alleged that the EVMs used in February- March assembly polls were manipulated to sway the outcome in favor of the BJP and have been demanding to revert to paper ballots. The Election Commission slammed the demonstration in the Delhi assembly, saying anyone can make a “lookalike” gadget to justify “magic or tampering”.

The commission said, “It is common sense that gadgets other than ECI-EVMs can be programmed to perform in a pre-determined way, but it simply cannot be implied that ECI-EVMs will behave in the same manner because they are technically secured and function under an elaborate administrative and security protocol.”

Thereafter EC held a meeting on 12th May with all the recognized national and state political parties in New Delhi to discuss issues related to EVM and VVPAT (voter-verifiable paper audit trail). During this meeting, EC gave detailed information on how the EVMs work and made an attempt on their part to show that the EVMs are tamper free.

Some of the political parties were still not satisfied so, on the 20th of May 2017 (ECI) announced that it would offer its electronic voting machines to political parties for them to try and prove that EVMs can be tampered with. The challenge will begin on June 3rd, 2017.

ECI has put forth some conditions for the supposed hackathon. Here are some of the important points

• The challenge will only be open to up to three members nominated by national and state parties which contested assembly polls in five states.

• Each participating group will be given four hours to hack the machine.

• Foreign experts have been barred from participating in the challenge.

• Participants can use a combination of keys on EVMs or communication devices such as cell phones and Bluetooth to tamper with the machines to change the results.

In this hackathon challenge on 3rd June, the first challenge is to prove that EVMs can be tampered with while polling and second that tampering can take place while the machine is kept in the EC’s custody.

Only two parties – NCP and the Communist Party of India (CPI) have agreed to participate in the EVMs challenge. This is hardly surprising knowing to the terms and conditions of ECI it would merely be possible to rig the EVMs on this Saturday. AAP which was the first political party to claim that EVMs during this political elections were rigged has backed off from the hackathon stating the terms and conditions put forth by ECI are totally unacceptable.

The ruling party Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) says those blaming EVMs for their defeats are ‘sore losers’. This is surprising as the party’s leaders were first to say that EVMs could be rigged.

After the 2009 Lok Sabha Election, BJP Leader L K Advani raised doubts about EVMs and even demanded that paper ballots should be re-introduced.

Is our country’s democracy at risk! How reliable are the voting machines these recent issues have raised all these questions. Democracy is meant to be for the people and by the people isn’t it the citizens right to choose a government? EC says EVMs can’t be rigged but they completely refuse to allow anyone to actually try tampering with the machines. In the Saturday’s challenge, ‘hackers’ can only press the buttons on the machine or use external devices. They are not supposed to open the machines anyway. Moreover, some parties even mentioned the time limit of four hours is not sufficient to do a thorough check.

EC in one of its open letters mentioned 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. During the manufacturing, testing, storage, calibration, and deployment the EVMs passes through hundreds of hands so insider tampering simply cannot be ruled out.

EC is preventing hackers from finding flaws in the machines this is not the way to safeguard the country’s democracy.

To make this hackathon meaningful EC should allow physical tampering, without even touching the system or by just pressing some buttons these machines cannot be hacked. They should get design documents, test results and information about the security of EVM uses. The results of each teams hacking should be made public.

A team of experts should verify all the securities and they must be given time to go through all the parts of the machines, this process should be done openly. EC has been an institution that has always protected democracy, and from this hackathon, we expect that our country’s election process is still safeguarded and every vote is counted.

Nikita Nikale

Pursuing computer engineering, a passionate reader, a mindful writer. I believe in creating a wonderful life by making positive choices.

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