Locking the Control Units of EVMs securely


I am writing this article to support the cautionary view expressed by Prashant Tandon (a senior journalist) who often appears on DB Live’s YouTube channel.  He mentioned that guarding the EVM’s Control Units (CUs) and Ballot Boxes (BUs) may be very crucial in the results of an election. In the case of CUs as well as BUs (containing VVPAT slips,) the most important seal that is used for locking them is the paper tape used to seal the lid covering those units. Paper seals are signed by the Poll Agents (PAs) of various parties present at the polling booths, as well as the Presiding Officers (POs). These paper-tape seals appear to be very reliable. They are simple but ingeniously designed foolproof devices. 

However, they are reliable only if one verifies at the counting stations that the paper tapes pulled out of the CUs by Counting Agents (COs) are nothing but the original tapes that were inserted in the lids of the units at the CUs. If they are not verified to be the original tapes by comparing them with the pictures of the same taken at the polling booths, they could be new tapes bearing bogus signatures, or even without any signatures. From the information that I have gathered, none of the Counting Agents (CAs) of various parties carry pictures of the original tapes in their hands, to compare the same with the tapes pulled out of the CUs. I would appreciate it very much if you and your very able and prominent senior journalists could verify the information that I have gathered so far. All that they have to do is ask some people who have served as a PA, PO, CA, CO, or even an RO (Returning Officer), and let me know whether the information provided by me is right or not.

If the information that I have provided above is true, the paper tape lock is nothing but false/fake locks assuring that the units are locked, while they are not. One must understand that false locks are worse than having no lock at all. This is because in case there is no lock, various parties will take steps to ensure that the units are never left unguarded (out of sight), as probably Bhupesh Baghel jee did in 2018’s Chhattisgarh state election. However, in the 2023 state election, it seems (according to Prashant Tandon’s report) that Baghel jee’s Congress party was too lax in guarding the CUs, and hence they lost. 

If various parties make sure that the paper tapes are indeed the original tapes, and hence there was no tampering of the CUs, the higher officials like the RO, and others, would not be able to tamper any of the CUs. The RO may still be able to do some cheating like adding up vote counts from various counting tables incorrectly, in addition to taking advantage of other opportunities for cheating. But at least tampering or wholesale replacements of the CUs & BUs would be prevented. 

So, to prevent tampering or wholesale replacements of the CUs & BUs, all that various parties have to do is train their PAs and CAs to do their respective duties properly, as outlined below. Actually, it should be the duty of the Election Commission of India (ECI) to train personnel nominated as PAs and CAs by various parties. As I have suggested below, even the POs, COs, and ROs should also be nominated by the ruling and opposition coalitions, paired up at each position, for the sake of fairness and transparency, and trained by the ECI. 

The following is an excerpt from a bigger article published in CounterCurrents.org:


To use the locking mechanism properly, the polling and counting agents as well as officers have to be instructed/trained appropriately, as shown below:

  1. Check the poll boxes to make sure they do not already have any votes in them. 
  2. Put your (polling agents’) signatures on the paper tape that is to be used for sealing the ballot box. 
  3. Get a carbon copy of the paper tape, or if there are too many polling agents and not enough carbon copies, take a picture of the duly signed tape in your smartphone. The next day, the PAs who took pictures of the paper tapes should get the pictures printed to the size of the original tape. These pictures and carbon copies (from those lucky enough to get them) must be handed over to respective party headquarters (PHQs). The PHQs must provide pictures of the paper tapes (or the carbon copies) to appropriate Counting Agents (CAs) on the counting day(s). 
  4. Make sure that the Presiding Officer (PO) inserts the paper tape properly in appropriate slots, so that the paper tape covers the “opening hole” on the box, and then shuts the lid of the ballot box, which gets locked with the help of a spring-loaded locking mechanism. Make sure that the box is indeed locked internally and cannot be opened. After the box is locked, it cannot be opened without puncturing the paper tape and inserting a finger into the “opening hole”  to open the spring-loaded mechanism that locks the box lid in place. 
  5. The box should have a slot at the top through which the ballots/paper slips can drop in after they are cut off when the voter presses the CAST-the-VOTE switch next to the printer.
  6. The poll agents then have to sit there, keeping a watch, making sure that nothing fishy happens during the voting phase. 
  7. A Close of Voting Period Form (CVPF) should be filled by the PO and signed by him/her and counter-signed by the polling agents present at the close of the voting period. The CVPF should be the last thing dropped into the ballot box. The CVPF should contain the number of voters who have voted and the number of canceled votes. 
  8. There must be a provision in the box to pull a self-locking shutter to cover the slot so that nothing can be dropped into the same after the box’s shutter is closed, nothing can be taken out as well. This provision may be in the form of a spring-loaded shutter that can be pulled to shut the slot, and the spring-loaded mechanism would prevent it from opening without opening the box by perforating the paper tape already inserted. The polling agents should make sure that after they countersign the CVPF form, and drop it into the box, the box’s slot is shuttered and locked with the self-locking mechanism.
  9. The polling agents should get a printout of the pictures of the duly signed and countersigned CVPF form, and hand the printouts over to their respective Party Head Quarters (PHQs). Thus there are two printouts to be handed over to the PHQs: (a) Printouts of the duly signed paper tapes by the morning polling agents, and (b) copies of the CVPF form duly signed by POs and countersigned by the polling agents present in the evening at vote closing time. 
  10. When the transport bus comes to pick up the vote box, if there is enough room, the polling agent should hop in and accompany the ballot box to the strong room. 
  11. The poll agents (PAs) should make sure that their respective PHQs give the paper tape copies (or carbon copies) and copies of CVPFs to the counting agent (CAs) on the counting day. 
  12. At the counting time, the Counting Agents (CAs) should be ready with the pictures of appropriate duly signed original paper tapes for sealing the ballot boxes, to compare them with the original tapes, as they are pulled out of the ballot boxes by the counting Officers. They should also compare the CVPF forms taken out of the box with the copies of the pictures of duly signed CVOF forms taken by their polling agents at the close of the voting time.
  13. The CAs should insist on taking a close look at the paper tapes as well as the CVPF, as they are pulled out of the ballot boxes by COs, and they (the CAs) should compare them with the appropriate photocopies given to them by their party headquarters. If they do not match, the box is considered as tampered or changed and the ballots in them cannot be relied upon. New voting must be ordered in such cases, for the concerned polling centers. In case of large-scale tampering, constituency-wide re-polling has to be ordered.

After the CAs make sure that the paper tape that was used for locking the ballot box was the original tape, and hence the box has not been tampered with or replaced, the contents of the ballot boxes can be dumped over a counting table. Counting officers will first fish out the CVPF form and hand it over to the CAs of various parties to compare the same with their copies in the hands of CAs. If the original paper tape and CVPF match with their copies in the hands of CAs, we can be sure the ballot boxes have not been tampered with. If not, the boxes have been tampered with and votes at least at the concerned booth have to be canceled and re-polling ordered. If any tampering is found, perhaps re-polling of the whole constituency has to be ordered. 

After the paper tape and CVPF are found to match the copies of the same in the hands of the CAs, we can be reasonably sure that the boxes have not been tampered with. We can then wean out the canceled votes and count the valid votes as well as canceled votes and make sure they tally with the numbers given on the CVPF.

As for the impartiality of various officers of the Election Commission, it can be improved by following the method used in the USA. In the USA, at all levels of the hierarchy of the Election Commission, they pair up Democratic Party members and Republican Party members one-on-one (50-50) from bottom to top. Likewise, in India too, all members of the Election Commissions should be approved by the ruling coalition and the opposition coalition, one to one. If and when there is a disagreement between two officials, steps should be taken to resolve the same by referring the matter to officials higher up. If an issue cannot be resolved even at the highest level, the matter should be referred to the judiciary. 

In the judiciary too there is a good possibility of judges being biased. In the US too the judges are biased. But by and large, they are somewhat more tempered by morality, ethical considerations, and appearances, a bit more than those in India. To ensure a panel of relatively unbiased out of a bigger pool of biased judges, all that I have been able to think of is a procedure outlined as follows. 

The ruling and opposition coalitions should nominate 10 judges each in a bigger pool of 20 judges. Out of these 20 judges, three will be picked out randomly to sit on any bench to hear a matter that could not be resolved by the highest officials (Election Commissioners) of the ECI. This procedure is a concoction out of my rapidly aging brain. If any of you could come up with a procedure that may appear to be fairer and less biased than the one I have suggested above, please do let me know of the same at my email ID given below with the subject heading: “Suggestion regarding EVMs”.

Thank you very much,

Most cordially yours,

Dr. Satinath Choudhary, Bronx, New York, USA.

[email protected]

A retired professor of Computer Science at several colleges in the USA. I am currently a full-time activist for worthy causes in India as well as in the USA.

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