Doubts about the EVMs- ECI should be open to expert suggestions and submit itself to public accountability

Shri Rajiv Kumar
Chief Election Commissioner
Election Commission of India (ECI)

Shri A C Pandey
Election Commissioner
Election Commission of India (ECI)

Shri Arun Goel
Election Commissioner
Election Commission of India (ECI)

Dear S/Shri Rajiv Kumar/ Pandey/ Goel,
I refer to my letter of January 26, 2024 on how the BJP has loaded the Boards of both Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) and the Electronics Corporation of India Ltd (ECIL) with its nominees and how it has cast a shadow on the credibility of the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) manufactured and supplied by those two CPSEs. 

Though I had cautioned the Commission as early as 23-3-2023 on this and, once again, reminded it on 26-1-2024, I find that the Commission has failed to invoke its authority under Article 324 and direct the Government to withdraw the BJP nominees from BEL’s and ECIL’s Boards. The Commission is either insensitive to the conflict of interest that is explicitly evident or is reluctant to displease the political executive, which in my view amounts to allowing the ruling political party brazenly to tilt the level playing ground among the political parties to the detriment of the public interest. How can the Commission discharge its Constitutional responsibility of conducting elections in a free and fair manner?

As I have pointed out time and again, EVM technology as it is the case today is not only vulnerable to manipulation but also violates the secrecy of voting to the extent of its inability to permit the “mixing” of booth-wise ballots within a constituency, since it does not use totalisers. In my view, this is a serious legal infringement.

As far as the vulnerability of EVMs to manipulation is concerned, I invite your attention to the expert opinion offered by Madhav Deshpande, a professional who has studied the EVM system in depth, when he appeared in a video interview with Karan Thapar ( I would earnestly advise the Commission to invite Madhav Deshpande to appreciate his concerns and to adopt the remedial measures suggested by him. 

Briefly, the EVM system consists of a Ballot unit, a VVPAT unit and a Control unit. Since the system is a stand-alone one, it may be difficult to “hack” it. However, since the Ballot unit is connected to the Control unit via the VVPAT unit, the voter is never sure whether the vote cast by him/her has been correctly conveyed by the VVPAT unit to the Control Unit which determines the final vote count. If the sequencing of these units is changed such that the Ballot Unit conveys the vote simultaneously to the VVPAT and Control units where the electronically transmitted vote is to be registered and counted, this issue could be resolved to some extent. If it is not changed thus, there is no certainty that the vote cast through the Ballot unit is correctly conveyed by the VVPAT unit to the Control Unit.

While the Ballot unit and the Control unit are randomised and therefore independent of the location wherever they are used, the VVPAT unit is location-specific, as constituency-wise, candidate-wise information is uploaded into it a few days before it is deployed. To that extent, it depends on the data fed into it and the format in which it is fed. Though only authorised persons are allowed to attend to this, since it is a manual operation, even without the knowledge of the authorised persons, the format in which the data is uploaded into the VVPAT unit may leave room for manipulation. Such manipulation may result in the VVPAT unit conveying the vote cast in favour of one candidate to another candidate unless the process of feeding the data module into the VVPAT unit is subject to independent expert oversight and surveillance by all political parties. The absence of such independent surveillance makes the system vulnerable to manipulation.

A mere 100% cross-verification of the electronic votes counted vis-a-vis the VVPAT count may not fully address this issue. It calls for a far more verification process than that.

As explained by Madhav Deshpande, the next possibility of manipulation arises in the absence of “pairing” of the VVPAT units with the corresponding Control units through a connecting cable and a secure unique electronic key so that once a Control unit registers the votes cast, it cannot be replaced by another one to manipulate the vote count. If a Control unit is replaced after votes are registered but before counting starts, if the VVPAT and Control units are electronically “paired” and can recognise each other, it will not allow the newly introduced Control unit to recognise the VVPAT unit which has registered the votes. At present, in the absence of such a serial connection and the absence of electronically secured “pairing”, there is a clear possibility of manipulation.

Finally, in the present arrangement, it is not possible to track a Control unit once votes are registered by it. It is necessary to ensure traceability of a Control unit which has registered the votes cast, so that those who undertake counting or those overseeing it may readily know if it is moved to a different location unauthorisedly to permit manipulation. To permit traceability, the Control Unit needs to be “geo-tagged” without the necessity of the Control unit itself being connected to the internet. The geo-tag can be sealed so that no one may tamper with it.

What Madhav Deshpande has so clearly explained calls for the following:

  1. A rearrangement of the configuration such that the Ballot Unit may convey information on votes cast simultaneously to the Control Unit and the VVPAT Unit directly
  2. Subject uploading of Constituency-wise, and candidate-wise data and its format into the VVPAT unit to an independent technical audit under scrutiny by all political parties
  3. Ensure “pairing” of the VVPAT and Control Units before they are connected for voting through a secure unique electronic coupling arrangement and subject that process to scrutiny by all political parties
  4. Geo-tag each Control unit under a seal to prevent their unauthorised movement, once again subject to independent technical audit and scrutiny by all political parties

The above measures are urgently called for and I hope that the Commission will implement them.

I suggest that the Commission invite Madhav Deshpande to explain the “gaps” and “holes” in the EVM system pointed out by him and additional remedial measures to be taken so that the Commission may take such urgent measures as necessary to dispel the public concerns about the use of EVMs and elicit public trust in itself.

The Commission, the independence of which has come under judicial scrutiny, cannot afford to function in secrecy. The fact that the Commission has shown reluctance to meet a delegation of opposition leaders on their EVM concerns has further reinforced the growing doubts about its independence. The Commission cannot afford to deify the existing EVM technology and obstinately defend it without reason or rhyme. I may remind the Commission that it is funded by the people of this country, not by the ruling political executive and it cannot afford to shy away from public accountability. Nor can it abandon the obligation cast on it by Article 324 of the Constitution to be independent enough to conduct elections in a free and fair manner. 

The fact that the ruling political executive has chosen to ignore the apex court’s suggestion to have an independent process for selecting the members of the Election Commission and the fact that the Commission has displayed unwillingness time and again to penalise senior political leaders occupying high public offices for violating the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) gives one the impression that is unwilling to function independent of the political executive and safeguard the public interest. The fact that the Commission has not chosen to direct the government to revamp the Boards of BEL and ECIL to exclude BJP’s representatives from their respective Boards leads one to the inevitable inference that the line between the political executive and the Commission is getting totally blurred. This situation does not augur well for the future of India’s democracy unless the Commission wakes up and corrects it urgently.

I hope that you will take this seriously, plug the “holes” and “gaps” pointed out by Madhav Deshpande immediately and start functioning independently and transparently.


Yours sincerely,

E A S Sarma

Former Secretary to the Government of India


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