View: A forensic audit of a sample of EVMs after counting is must to detect malpractices

Any machine that uses a programmable microprocessor can be programmed to behave in a particular fashion.

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This would help detect malpractice, if it has taken place, and, if the audit fails to spot any hanky-panky, to silence the criticism that EVMs have been hacked.
Former president Pranab Mukherjee has expressed concern over reports of tampering of electronic voting machines. Videos are circulating of large numbers of EVMs being transported in private vehicles without registration numbers in Uttar Pradesh. Thousands of EVMs are officially admitted to be missing—they are reported to have been delivered by the manufacturers but do not figure in the numbers in the Election Commission’s possession, according to official replies to Right to Information (RTI) queries.

It is conceivable that EVMs are being used to alter the people’s mandate. The simplest method is to switch EVMs. Suppose one set of EVMs are used for voting and another set are used for counting. In theory, before counting, the serial numbers of the machines are supposed to be tallied. But given that machines from numerous polling booths are brought together and join the EVMs from other centres, it is conceivable that matching of serial numbers is a cursory formality.

If the matching of numbers signed off on by polling agents at booths with the numbers on the machines used for counting does take place in systematic detail, the results would not start trickling out so soon after the counting begins. So, there is room for EVM switching to take place. If the spare machines that are kept in the custody of the election officials or the machines that have gone missing from official custody and are in private circulation are filled with votes of the desired kind and these are substituted for the machines used for polling at the time of counting, we’ll get one kind of EVM fraud. All it would take is to suborn some election officials.


Another possibility is to reprogram the machines before the voting takes place. Any machine that uses a programmable microprocessor can be programmed to behave in a particular fashion. It requires access to the machine in the interval between finalisation of candidates and their buttons on the voting machine in each constituency and polling. This, again, calls for the collusion of some election officials.

There is no reason to do these things on a massive scale. It is sufficient to do this in some closely fought constituencies, and within these, in pockets where the rival party’s support is strong.

The Opposition is demanding that that the EVM count be tallied with the paper ballots generated when a voter presses the button of her choice on the EVM, the so-called voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) slips. This does not seem a good enough check on possible EVM malpractice. If election officials can collude to permit tampering with or substitution of EVMs, they can collude to allow substitution of VVPAT slips as well, to prevent any mismatch with the votes engineered.
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Ideally, a sample of voting machines from 50 constituencies where the contest could be expected to be close should be randomly selected from the counting centres, and subjected to forensic audit to see if they have been tampered with or if they match the machines used for voting by scrutinising the unique serial numbers of the machines.

This would help detect malpractice, if it has taken place, and, if the audit fails to spot any hanky-panky, to silence the criticism that EVMs have been hacked. Of course, the integrity of the audit process would have to be ensured as well.

This would not delay the declaration of results and restore public faith in the integrity of the election process. There is every reason to conduct a post-counting forensic audit of the EVMs used for counting.
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