Sunday, July 21, 2024

Fears over EVMs


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In the age of electronic revolution, it was natural and fitting for India to have taken advantage of this and introduced the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) for polls from Parliament down to state assemblies. While the Opposition has often raised its misgivings, the system implemented in the country since the late 1990s in a phased manner has gained full currency by now. The Election Commission had introduced the system developed by the state-owned Electronic Corporation of India and Bharat Electronics. These machines operated on battery and are not linked to the internet. These neither have wireless access or interface. This was reassurance that they cannot be tampered with from outside.
However, not everyone is convinced that EVMs are tamper-proof. This, despite a Supreme Court ruling that the system was in order and that the concerns in this respect were “unfounded.” The Supreme Court in Delhi is not the Oracle of Delphi. What it says is legally the last word but doubts would linger. Now, a debate on social media by two worthies, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and former Indian IT minister and top techie Rajeev Chandrasekhar only added to the public concern related to EVMs. Musk, an authority on the subject, stresses that EVMs can be hacked. “The risk of being hacked by humans or AI, while small, is still too high.” The former IT minister however argued that this was not possible at all. True; Chandrasekhar himself is proof and he was defeated in the recent LS polls in Kerala.
The play of electronics is all-pervasive. It cannot be seen but its feel is all-encompassing. It changed life wholesale across continents. Its power is beyond perception. With electronics technology, anything is possible – and we know too little about its sweep and sway. Remote control and video calls were flights of fancy till a few decades ago. Today, these are a reality. EVMs are capable of providing instant results. But, our systems are such that the wait for poll results lasts several weeks after the voting is done. What this goes to stress is that the electronic voting system itself needs a lot of improvement. Complaints surfaced this time about a close relative of a candidate unauthorisedly handling a mobile phone that carried in it the security key to EVMs in the constituency. Apprehensions are many. The election results of Andhra Pradesh, this time, went against the YSRC despite its massive rolling out of welfare programmes targeting over 70 per cent of the population. Techies supporting a rival political establishment had the last laugh. The BJP-led NDA managed to get just enough seats for a comfortable majority in Parliament despite the sullen mood of the electorate. The fact of the matter is, anything is possible in a technology mediated world.


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